Business & Lobbying

Retailers predict sharp drop in imports amid coronavirus outbreak

An outbreak of a novel coronavirus will cause a sharp drop in imports at major U.S. retail container ports, the National Retail Federation (NRF) announced on Monday.

The U.S. should expect a 12.9 percent decrease in February compared to the prior year in imports from China, according to a Global Port Tracker report released by the NRF and Hackett Associates.

About 1.41 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEU), which is one 20-foot-long cargo container or its equivalent, are expected to be handled by U.S. ports this month. In December, the ports handled 1.72 million TEU; that figure was 1.82 million TEU in January.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, U.S. ports were expected to handle 1.54 million TEU in February.

Lunar New Year festivities as well as the ongoing trade war with China are also taking a toll on imports, researchers noted. 

"February is historically a slow month for imports because of Lunar New Year and the lull between retailers' holiday season and summer, but this is an unusual situation," NRF Vice President for Supply Chain and Customs Policy Jonathan Gold said in a press release.

He added that many Chinese factories "have already stayed closed longer than usual, and we don't know how soon they will reopen."

"U.S. retailers were already beginning to shift some sourcing to other countries because of the trade war, but if shutdowns continue, we could see an impact on supply chains," he added.

The NRF also predicted that US ports will handle 1.46 million TEU in March and 1.82 million TEU in April.

More than 900 people have died from the novel coronavirus virus, with most of the deaths reported in China, where it is believed to have originated. 

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