Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett says a trade war is a vicious circle of retaliation where there are no winners, only losers

Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett says a trade war is a vicious circle of retaliation where there are no winners, only losers

While imports at major US retail container ports are expected to rise by 5.8% year-on-year this month, growth could be threatened in the future if the developing trade war between the United States and China continues to escalate.

According to the latest Global Port Tracker report released by the NRF and Hackett Associates, total imports at major US retail container ports in 2017 were 20.5m Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU), topping last year's previous record of 19.1m TEU by 7.6%

2017 saw an all-time monthly high of 1.8m TEU in August and included five of only seven months when imports have hit 1.7m TEU or more.

For the first half of 2018, imports are expected to total 10.4m TEU, an increase of 5.6% over the first half of 2017.

Ports covered by Global Port Tracker handled 1.69m TEU in February, the latest month for which after-the-fact numbers are available. That was down 4.1% from January but up 15.8% from a year ago, with the year-on-year number skewed because of fluctuations in the timing of the Lunar New Year factory shutdowns in Asia.

March was estimated at 1.54m TEU, down 1.2% on the same month last year, while April is forecast at 1.72m TEU, up 5.8% from last year.

Looking further ahead, May is forecast at 1.82m TEU, up 4.%; June at 1.83m TEU, up 6.5%; July at 1.88m TEU, up 4.5%, and August at 1.9m TEU, up 3.9%.

The Trump administration last month proposed tariffs on US$50bn of imports in China under Section 301 of the Trade Act – with an additional $100bn in tariffs against China being considered. China has announced possible retaliatory duties in response.

Latest US, China tariff move raises apparel fears again

"Tariffs are a tax on American consumers in the form of higher prices but they are also a tax on American jobs," says NRF vice president for supply chain and customs policy Jonathan Gold. "If tariffs ultimately lead to a reduction in imports and exports, that will put dockworkers and countless others in the supply chain out of work. American consumers and workers should not be punished for China's wrongdoing."

Hackett Associates founder Ben Hackett, agrees there is "nothing good" about a trade war. "It is a vicious circle of retaliation where there are no winners, only losers," he says.

In a separate move, President Trump last month decided to impose a 25% tariff on foreign-made steel and 10% for aluminium in response to a national security investigation he initiated last spring.