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U.S. Import Trends Reflect Pre-Pandemic Times

A recent global shipping report highlighted some key trends in U.S. container imports. There was an increase of over 5% in container imports last month, aligning with patterns typical of the peak shipping seasons seen before the pandemic. This increase brought the July 2023 volumes to nearly 2.2 million TEUs, which, despite being 13.6% less than July 2022, closely mirrored the volumes of July 2019.

 Container imports have been growing steadily, with only a slight difference of 1.7% in growth during the first seven months of 2023 compared to the same period in 2019. Despite the uptick in volumes, ports in the U.S. have maintained efficiency, with transit times staying near their most rapid rates from the past two years. While top West Coast ports saw a reduced volume share, the East and Gulf Coast ports experienced an increase. With the winter holidays approaching, container volumes are projected to reach their highest in almost a year.


U.S. Ports Anticipate Surge in Cargo Volume

Major U.S. ports are gearing up for a significant increase in import cargo volumes this month, the highest in nearly a year. This boost is attributed to retailers stocking up for the winter holidays. Recent labor challenges that posed threats earlier in the summer at these ports have also been addressed, helping the supply chain go back to normal. Key West Coast ports, along with delivery service entities, have settled tentative contract agreements in labor disputes, while a large strike in Canada has been averted with an agreement, ensuring smoother operations.

Cargo volumes experienced a decline in June despite a surge in consumer spending and employment across the country. This contradiction arises as retailers process inventory accumulated over the past year. In June, the cargo handled was 1.83 million TEUs, marking a drop from previous months. However, projections indicate that August will see a substantial increase, nearing 2 million TEUs. The upcoming months could see varying trends, but overall, 2023 might conclude with 22.3 million TEUs in imports, a decrease from the previous years.


Houston’s Port Enhancements Unveiled

Last Friday, Port Houston showcased its newly completed Wharf 6 upgrades, which form part of its broader Bayport Container Terminal expansion efforts. This enhancement event saw the presence of notable officials, including U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. The Chairman of the Port Commission, Ric Campo, emphasized that the Wharf 6 addition isn’t just infrastructure; it represents a future vision for the port and its subsequent generations. This upgrade aims to address the rising demands, reducing congestion and catering to the latest ships passing through the Panama Canal.

 The Department of Transportation has committed nearly $80 million to this project, focusing on enhancing the Bayport Container Terminal’s space and efficiency. Other advancements at the port comprise yard restorations and the enlargement of the truck entrance. Set to commence full operations in October; the new wharf stands testament to Houston’s commitment to trade and commerce. Historically, in 2022, Port Houston recorded its peak activity, managing 3.9 million TEUs. Despite a decline in container imports this year, exports have surged. This growth aligns with the port’s responsibility to adapt and develop the Houston Ship Channel, the nation’s busiest waterway, ensuring its readiness for future shipping demands.


California Labor Negotiations Progress

Southern California waterfront employers and office workers from the ILWU are pushing forward with contract discussions that began early this year. Both sides, represented by the lead negotiator for Los Angeles-Long Beach Harbor and the president of ILWU Local 63, agree that they are advancing towards a deal.

 Their talks have focused on salaries, retirement benefits, and incorporating technology in shipping document processing. Although there’s a consensus on most provisions, individual employer contracts have unique elements. Discussions have also centered on wage hikes, with the union pursuing a substantial increase for three years.


Resolution in B.C. Port Standoff

The Canada Industrial Relations Board has shared the details of a four-year agreement concluding the port dispute in British Columbia. The International Longshore and Warehouse Union Canada, with around 7,400 workers, reported that nearly three-quarters of its members supported the new contract. This agreement comes after a challenging period marked by a 13-day strike and disruptions affecting billions in cargo movement.

 The central terms of this agreement focus on training for new equipment maintenance and assurance against outsourcing such tasks. Workers will also see wage increases over the next four years—furthermore, the B.C. Maritime Employers Association emphasized a commitment to collaborate with all involved parties to fortify Canada’s supply chain reputation and avoid such disruptions in the future.


Railway Safety in Spotlight After Ohio Derailment

After a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, involving 38 carriages from Norfolk Southern, the Federal Railroad Administration has scrutinized U.S. rail safety. Their investigation deemed the company’s safety culture generally adequate yet pointed out significant deficiencies. Central issues highlighted were insufficient communication methods, a need to bolster employee trust, and a plea for enhanced safety standards that exceed mere adequacy.

The repercussions of the derailment became even more alarming when it was discovered that damaged carriages carried hazardous chemicals. To mitigate the risk, these were set alight, causing a toxic cloud that rendered nearby homes uninhabitable for a considerable period and left locals grappling with health concerns. In response to the incident’s aftermath, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration collaborated with Norfolk Southern to institute measures to improve employee welfare. Concurrently, another railroad operator, CSX, pledged to augment their health and safety training after another tragic event resulted in two trainee fatalities.