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As tariffs loom, Port of Charleston sets all-time cargo record in October

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The COSCO Glory container ship, capable of carrying up to 13,200 cargo boxes, clears the Ravenel Bridge on its way to the Wando Welch Terminal in Mount Pleasant on Oct. 29. Big container ships helped The Port of Charleston set an all-time cargo record in October. Provided/State Ports Authority

The Port of Charleston handled a record amount of containerized cargo in October as shippers looked to get ahead of additional tariffs on Chinese-made goods that will take effect in the new year.

A total of 217,035 cargo containers measured in 20-foot increments moved through the port's terminals last month, according to the State Ports Authority. That is an 18.7 percent increase over last October and breaks the previous all-time mark of 206,541 containers set in August.

The port has seen 797,396 containers since the current fiscal year started on July 1 — 10.3 percent better than the same period a year ago.

"We are getting increasing evidence that, in addition to a strong economy, some of this volume spike may be accounted for by customers advancing shipments to avoid pending tariffs slated to take effect in January," said Jim Newsome, the authority's president and CEO. "We are doing a more thorough assessment as to the implications of this on future volumes."

President Donald Trump imposed tariffs of 10 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods on Sept. 24. Those tariffs will jump to 25 percent beginning on Jan. 1. The delay is intended to give companies dependent on those imports time to shift their supply chains. Those tariffs are in addition to duties Trump previously imposed on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports.

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Chris Rogers, a trade analyst with the Panjiva research group, told The Wall Street Journal the increase in tariffs "suggests we'll get another pop upwards in imports in the November-December time frame."

The Commerce Department reported that imports of goods to the U.S. were the highest on record at $217.6 billion in September, the latest data available. That's 11.5 percent higher than the same month last year. Imports were up 10.5 percent during the third quarter of this year.

China is South Carolina’s No. 1 trading partner, with about $13 billion worth of goods exchanged each year.

Other ports are seeing record cargo volumes ahead of the tariffs. The Port of Savannah saw 32 percent growth in October with 410,000 containers moving through its Garden City Terminal — the first time the port has handled more than 400,000 cargo boxes in a month.

"We're now handling more ships, bigger vessels and larger cargo exchanges," said Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority.

Reach David Wren at 843-937-5550 or on Twitter at @David_Wren_

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