Containers shifting away from US Pacific ports: Gulf of Mexico the big winner

More than 1m teus per year have shifted away from US West Coast ports, with Gulf of Mexico ports being the big winners, according to a report by Descartes Systems Group.

The analysis of the shift in US import volumes since 2021 found that the days of long queues to get into the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles – driven by a pandemic-related surge in demands for goods – had gone into reverse, with concerns at labour disputes on the Southern Californian ports leading to shippers choosing instead to deliver to ports such as Houston.

Asian-based imports contributed the most to volume growth at Gulf Coast ports. However, the report also indicated that a smaller shift away from Northern European container imports was occurring simultaneously.

Chris Jones, EVP Industry at Descartes, said that “shifts in container import volumes from West Coast ports are top of mind again with the protracted ILWU-PMA contract negotiations”.

East and Gulf Coast ports have generally outperformed West Coast ports in terms of growth rates for the past several years, amid a steady eastward shift of inbound cargo volumes that began with the expansion of the Panama Canal in late 2016. The structural nature of this shift was accelerated by port congestion and growing uncertainty surrounding negotiations between West Coast port employers and dockworker unions.

Descartes said that “changing trade lanes is not a trivial activity; however, the degree of volume shift that occurred in a short time frame during the pandemic is a testament to the ingenuity of logistics professionals”.