The Port of Los Angeles moved 581,665 cargo units in May -- a 29.8% decrease compared to last year's record-setting month -- due to the COVID-19 pandemic and lingering effects of the U.S.-China trade war last summer, executive director Gene Seroka said Wednesday.
"Compared to last May's historic volumes, the surge in canceled sailings due to COVID-19 and the trade war, along with shifts in liner services, all contributed to significantly softer (cargo) volumes," Seroka said. "As the U.S. economy begins to recover, we expect fewer canceled sailings and an uptick in cargo compared to previous months.
"We continue to invest through this global economic downturn in the infrastructure and technology that will assist us in driving our competitive advantage now and in the future."
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The May loaded imports decreased 28.4% to 306,323 cargo units compared to the previous year. Loaded exports dropped 37.6% to 104,382 units. Empty container shipments declined 26.8% to 170,960 units.
Five months into 2020, overall cargo volumes have decreased 18.6% compared to 2019, Seroka said.
Seroka said "it's a little bit early" to tell, but June cargo volumes are about 14% lower than June 2019.
The port saw ``Very elevated (cargo) levels ... last year at this time, as we were heading into a traditional peak season that was pre-COVID, but also a time frame where we were trying really to move in as much inventory on the import side to stay ahead of any uncertainty around tariffs that may be implemented," Seroka said.
The Port of Los Angeles has remained open with all terminals operational during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We're also comparing the busiest month of May in our 104-year history ... so the bar was set pretty high due to a strong advance of inventory during that trade debate," Seroka said.
Seroka said the port is moving about 80% of its normal cargo volume through the pandemic and post-trade-war effects. He said the June sailing cancellations that were forecast are not going to be as dire as once expected.
Seroka said economists predict an economic recovery to begin in early January with maritime trade starting to bounce back at the end of the year. But he said the trade policies from the federal government could doom 15% of the port's imports and they may not return.
Seroka said he has called for a nationwide port information sharing system to unite U.S. exporters, farmers, manufacturers and others maximize their sales.
Other steps intended to help the economic recovery include the establishment of a coalition of West Coast businesses and a focus on the U.S. agricultural sector and exporting, Seroka said.