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U.S. imports of containerized goods retreat to pre-pandemic level


Stacked containers and cranes are shown at the Port of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, U.S. November 22, 2021. REUTERS/Mike Blake

U.S. imports of goods in ocean shipping containers in December fell to levels approaching those last seen before the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report said on Tuesday.

Demand for kitchen appliances, furniture, big-screen TVs, apparel and other retail goods softened late last year as record inflation bit into disposable income and consumers shifted spending back to travel and other previously restricted activities.

December 2022 U.S. container import volume topped 1.9 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs), according to Descartes Systems Group. That was down 19% from the year earlier, but 1% above December 2019, the logistics software provider said. Then, the pandemic spawned an unexpected container cargo surge that overwhelmed seaports and upended global supply chains.

“The December U.S. container import data points to less pressure on supply chains and logistics operations, but there are still a number of issues that may cause further disruptions in 2023,” said Chris Jones, an executive vice president at Descartes.

Those include outbreak risks from new variants of the virus that causes COVID, Russia’s war in Ukraine, ongoing labor negotiations at busy U.S. West Coast ports and the threat of global recession, experts said.

Despite the sharp volume downturn in December, 2022 is shaping to be the second-busiest year after 2021 for U.S. container imports.