Wando Welch Port of Charleston


The prospect of higher tariffs on Chinese goods continued to impact trade in May with the Port of Charleston notching another month of record cargo volumes.

The 204,457 containers measured in 20-foot increments set a record for the month of May, the State Ports Authority said Tuesday. That number beat the previous record set a year ago.

The authority did not provide a breakdown of the number of imported containers versus exports and empty boxes being repositioned to overseas markets.

With one month left in the authority's fiscal year, containerized cargo volumes are up 9.7% with nearly 2.2 million boxes moving through the port's terminals since July.

Jim Newsome, the authority's president and CEO, said he expects the momentum to continue as the port closes out its fiscal year at the end of this month.

The authority's inland port in Greer also handled its highest monthly container volume in May, with 15,563 boxes moved between rail cars and trucks. The facility has handled 128,515 such moves since July.

Tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods will jump from 10% to 25% for imports that arrive in the U.S. after Saturday. The Trump administration has also threatened to impose tariffs of 25% on another $300 billion worth of products made in China.

The National Retail Federation said shipments from China have increased because U.S. customers want their products arriving before new tariffs kick in, and that has led to some of the cargo hikes nationwide in recent months.

"With a major tariff increase already announced and the possibility that tariffs could be imposed on nearly all goods and inputs from China, retailers are continuing to stock up while they can to protect their customers as much as possible against the price increases that will follow," Jonathan Gold, the foundation's vice president for supply chain and customs policy, said in a statement.

Global Port Tracker, which monitors cargo volumes at a dozen U.S. ports including Charleston, estimates imports at those sites through the first half of 2019 will hit 10.6 million containers — up 3% over the first half of 2018.

We're starting a weekly newsletter about the business stories that are shaping Charleston and South Carolina. Get ahead with us - it's free.

The Port of Virginia in Norfolk also said it moved a record number of containers for the month of May — 260,894 boxes measured in 20-foot increments. That is a 10.1% increase over the same period a year ago.

"We are on our way to another volume record for fiscal 2019 and closely monitoring the trade environment for any effects that additional tariffs may have on our business as we go forward," said John Reinhart, CEO of the Virginia Ports Authority.

Reinhart said the port is "working to diversify our cargo mix and this strategy will serve as a hedge during challenging trade environments."

The Georgia Ports Authority has not yet released its May totals.

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