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301 + Traditional Peak Season = Capacity, rate challenges for shippers

Importers of goods from China have been watching their landed cost estimations skyrocket in 2018. Actions by the Administration on steel, aluminum, solar panels and the three lists of harmonized tariff numbers from the Section 301 investigation have raised first-line costs and tied up capital for additional duties and increased continuous bonds.

The cat-and-mouse game with these tariffs is that for the goods subject to Section 301, importers have been scrambling to get these products into the country before the duty rates go into effect. These companies have looked at the cost to carry that inventory for longer and, for now, made the decision it will still cost less in the long run than 25% in duty that many items are facing.

For shippers moving goods these and other goods by air, the July report from IATA shows weak growth of only 2.1% globally, however this figure does not align with some airports who have indicated growth of upwards of 25%. IATA’s numbers do not take into account non-member airlines or integrated carriers who are seeing continued upticks in ecommerce and express packages. IATA also notes that another factor is the weaker-than-expected growth is that some cargo which has traditionally moved by air is now moving by sea because suppliers are under less pressure to deliver in time frames that require air transport.

An American Shipper article provides a number of key facts about what is causing this increase in rates.

  • A number of carriers and alliances have suspended or reduced capacity on several strings. This, despite increases in some other areas, has still resulted in a net loss of slots.
  • West Coast rates were trending upwards more quickly than East Coast rates as importers looked to get their cargo entered to beat the deadlines for additional duties, the most recent of which went into effect last week.
  • One executive estimated that the demand for slots is 20-25% higher than this time in 2017, causing a shortage of containers and rollovers as well.
  • Maersk is reported to be using extra loaders – ships to provide extra capacity – in a few key upcoming weeks in September.

Mark Irwin, RIM’s Vice President, International, adds his assessment:

“The Trans Pacific Eastbound trade continues to suffer from space shortages, vessel overbookings and almost gangster-like tactics from some carriers to hold importers cargo hostage for higher spot market rates.

Spot rates have exceeded prior years highs and are holding at historic levels with 40’ rates to the US East Coast topping $3,300.00, the West Coast $2,400.00 and IPI rates exceeding in some cases $5,000.00. We have heard that some of the large retailers that are trying to land pre-Christmas consumer goods are in some cases paying super premiums ($800 – $1,000/container on top of spot rates) to move cargo.

RIM carriers are respecting (in most cases) allocations that were set based on May, June and July shipping averages but companies shipping peak volumes in excess of their weekly “allocations” are also finding it very difficult to find any space, spot market or fixed rate.   RIM continues to meet with our carriers on a daily basis both in Asia and the USA to procure the space needed to move our customers freight.

The cut back in overall carrier space, the Trump tariffs, peak season and the rush to beat Golden Week (Oct 1)  have created the perfect storm in Asia.”