Everything’s Coming up Empty!

20151013_102630 20151013_102907By Alexa Ritacco

The number of empty containers being shipped back to China from US ports is pretty alarming. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Ports of Long Beach and Oakland have reported a 20% increase in the number of empties since last year. That is a pretty steep jump. In August, the Port of LA dealt with more than 225,000 empty shipping containers, bring their increase up to 21% from the following year. Even the east coast is feeling the effects, with New York and New Jersey ports reporting a combined increase in empty container exports of 31.5%.
It was crazy to actually see all of the giant empty containers in person on our class trip to the Port of LA. It really put the importance of this issue into perspective, and obviously made it seem much more real as well as pressing. The fact that most of those containers used to be going back filled, and that are now just sitting there empty, is most definitely concerning, and something that needs to be more widely addressed.
These increases are huge, and are happening because of a few reasons, but the main one being the high-profile slow down of China’s economy. The article notes that normally after receiving the imports from China, the containers are stuffed with American agricultural products, specialty luxury goods and recycling waste, that is typically turned into products or packaging once it enters China’s factories.
China’s demand for U.S goods has been faltering over the past few years, with the article citing that its “imports fell 20.4% year-over-year in September following a 13.8% decline in August” and as “of June, U.S. exports of scrap materials were down 36% from their peak of $32.6 billion in 2011.” These figures not only reflect the weakening of China’s economy, but economist Paul Bingham believes it to reflect a lowering demand in Europe as well, so it would only be natural for the US to be feeling these types of effects at our ports.
It will be very interesting to see how these issues progress, and to see what solutions are brought forward as concrete ideas to help handle these looming problems. The continuous growth of empty containers being shipped back is just not sustainable for US Trade. Is this simply just a cyclical slow down that the global economy will bounce back from? Or is it something more serious that may require some sort of intervention?

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