Descartes Datamyne maintains the world’s largest searchable trade database, covering 230 markets in five continents. The collected data is used by many companies and public entities and is recognized as one of the most authoritative sources on international trade trends.
AJOT: From the stories I see in the data a number of major trends emerge. Among them is the port shift from West Coast ports to East Coast ports. How does Descartes approach analyzing the trade data for the U.S. ports?
Descartes: We took the approach of comparing monthly snapshots to give a perspective of the degree change that has occurred in the last 5 years (2019 to 2023). January 2019 and 2023 are almost identical in volume to give more of an “apples” comparison of the shifts.
AJOT: From Descartes-Datamyne perspective how significant has the shift from West Coast port to East Coast and Gulf ports been over the period beginning before COVID to now?
Descartes: If we consider that January 2023 total U.S. container import volume is virtually the same as January 2019 (only 0.3% different), then comparing the coastal volumes shows a significant shift (at least 100,000 TEUs) moved from the top 10 West Coast ports to the top 10 East and Gulf Coast ports. Some (40,000 TEUs) also moved to smaller ports.
AJOT: Related to the above trend. There is a lot of discussion over changes in sourcing - China plus 1 or 2, near shoring or friend shoring. What trends does Descartes see from the changes in sourcing?
Descartes: If we consider that January 2023 total U.S. container import volume is virtually the same as January 2019 (only 0.3% different), then comparing imports from China shows a 14.0% decrease from 886,631 TEUs in 2019 to 763,014 TEUs in 2023. As for the type of goods moving being sourced in alternative countries to China, our data also shows that Vietnam, for example, is picking up furniture volume. China is still dominant, but an increasing amount is now being sourced from Vietnam.
AJOT: A related question that is being talked about more and more is India. What have we seen in recent years as a trend to and from India in terms of containerized freight?
Descartes: If we consider that January 2023 total U.S. container import volume is virtually the same as January 2019 (only 0.3% different), then comparing imports from India for the same months shows a 33% increase from 68,318 TEUs in 2019 to 90,869 TEUs in 2023.
AJOT: Similarly, there has been considerable discussion (and investment) in Mexico as a nearshore alternative to China beyond just the traditional auto business. What does Descartes see in the Mexican alternative?
Descartes: If we look across all modes of transportation for all U.S. imports from Mexico except automotive, we see that December 2022 “General Quantity” data (the latest available data) is 9,399,149,275 and January 2019 General Quantity is 7,884,195,394 or a 19.2% increase.
AJOT: Related to the above question, with the fall or leveling in demand after the post-pandemic deluge, the supply chain is clearing up and moving efficiently. But have the problems in the supply chain really been addressed? Are we doing better with issues like visibility and more efficiently handling imbalances in the supply chain?
Descartes: The decline in import container volumes that started last September certainly alleviated the pressure global supply chains and allowed for smoother and more efficient logistics operations at the ports and inland. However, nothing yet has materially changed. Rather than January 2023’s 2.06 million TEU import volume, if the U.S. was facing months with 20% higher TEU import volumes as we had in 2021 and early 2022, those challenges would return. Changing logistics infrastructure takes years and between the current administration and private investment by the logistics community, improvements are underway, but it will be a while for them to have an effect.