US imports from China falling faster than from other countries

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US imports from China falling faster than from other countries

Chinese producers lose more market share to other Asian exporters

Greg Miller

·Monday, November 14, 2022

 Fewer containers are headed to the US from terminals in China (Photo: AP Photo)

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America and China remain intimately intertwined via trade despite worsening tensions over Taiwan and the Russia-Ukraine war. More than a third of all U.S. containerized imports arrive from China. More than a sixth of China’s export value derives from U.S. purchases.

But there are growing signs of at least some decoupling. In recent months, America’s imports from China have fallen faster than total imports. Other Asian countries are increasingly taking U.S. market share from China, a trend that began before the pandemic and has continued.

Imports from China falling faster than total imports

According to new data from Descartes, U.S. containerized imports in October were flat (up 0.2%) versus September. But imports from China fell 5.5% month on month, by 45,071 twenty-foot equivalent units. The decline from China was entirely offset by gains from Thailand, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan and other countries.

In September, Descartes data showed a 12% plunge in total U.S. imports versus August. Imports from China fell faster: by 18% or 83,396 TEUs.

Chinese volumes accounted for 40% of all U.S. imports in August, and an even higher share — 42% — February. Last month, its share of U.S. imports was down to 35%.

chart showing China share of US containerized imports
(Chart: American Shipper based on data from Descartes Datamyne)

Chris Jones, executive vice president of industry and services at Descartes, told American Shipper: “You can see that during the highly publicized lockdowns [earlier in the year], there was still a healthy flow of goods out of China.

“However, there were also highly publicized comments by major retailers and others saying that they were reducing their international purchases — largely out of China — and looking for alternate sources. And that is happening now.”

Bookings in China falling faster than total bookings

Data from FreightWaves SONAR shows that bookings for China-to-U.S. cargoes have slowed more than overall inbound bookings.

Throughout 2021, the index for bookings loaded in China was significantly higher than the index for all export destinations. The gap has narrowed since March and has now almost vanished, as the China-to-U.S. bookings index declined faster than the overall index.

Chart showing bookings index for US-bound cargo from China, plus all cargo
Blue line: China-to-U.S. bookings as of date of departure. Green line: All U.S-bound bookings (Chart: FreightWaves SONAR)

Both indexes fell below 100 points this month (100 is indexed to bookings in January 2019). This implies weak volumes from China and other countries arriving in U.S. ports in December and early 2023.

Surprise decline in Chinese exports

On Nov. 7, the Chinese government announced October export results that were far below expectations.

Export value fell 7.5% versus September and 0.3% year on year. Economists polled by The Wall Street Journal had expected a year-on-year increase of 4%.  

Export value to the U.S. declined 14% year on year, a much steeper drop than total exports.

(Chart: American Shipper based on data from China General Administration of Customs)

Other Asian countries taking market share

The export data and Descartes import data point to a recent decline that m

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