The US has exported more empty shipping containers this year than any single good, according to a MarketWatch report.
Surging US import rates incentivized shippers to skip American-made exports and hurry back to Asia.
Agriculture exports dropped 22% in 2021, increasing the US trade deficit to record highs.
The US’ biggest export this year was air.
In the first 10 months of the year, over 59% of shipping containers that left the nation’s 9 largest ports were empty, according to data collected by MarketWatch. The publication found that the US exported about 12.1 million empty shipping containers from January to October of this year.
Over the past year, the number of empty containers that left the ports climbed over 46% from the previous year and nearly 38% from before the pandemic. At the same time, US imports have surged from elevated consumer demand.
Mike Tran, managing director of global energy strategy and digital intelligence strategy at RBC Capital Markets, previously told Insider the disparity between import and exports could create a trade imbalance by boosting the amount of foreign goods that are brought into the country while diminishing the American-made goods that are sent out.
“We as consumers always think about imports, but the port congestion is also impacting exports,” Tran said. “It’s impacting trade balances and essentially denying US, American-made trade because it’s less profitable.”
Demand for imported goods in America has made it far more lucrative for shipping companies to transport goods from Asia to the US than vice versa — meaning shippers are often in a hurry to return the container to China and skip the loading process in the US, Tran explained. Over the past year, the cost to ship a 40-foot container from Asia to the US soared as high as over $20,000. According to shipping consultancy firm Drewry, it costs seven times more to ship from Shanghai to Los Angeles than the other way round.
Insider’s Huileng Tan reported last month that the lack of incentive for US exports has significantly impacted American farmers, cutting about 22% of agriculture exports.
At the same time, the nation’s largest port has been inundated with a surplus of empty containers. Last week, Insider reported that empty containers at Southern California ports can be seen from 80 miles away, clogging local neighborhoods, warehouses, and shipping yards.
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives approved the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2021 — legislation aimed at stopping ocean carrier companies from refusing to load US agricultural and other goods for exports to Asia and around the globe.
“After defying the odds of weather, and many other issues that our farmers face, it is unconscionable that our perishable exports are left sitting in warehouses to rot,” US Representative Rick Allen, R-Georgia, said before the vote. “This bill provides the first significant federal update of the Federal Maritime Commission’s powers since 1998 and will significantly improve our farmers’ access to affordable shipping.”
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