Imports surge at Port of Oakland

( Photo: Port of Oakland )

In a normal year, the Port of Oakland stands out from other U.S. ports for exporting at least as much or more than it imports.

Not this year.

During the month of October 2018, Oakland imports clocked in at 52% of container volume; exports, 48%. 

Incoming cargo numbers mark the Port’s busiest peak season ever for imports, the Port said today.

The facility handled the equivalent of 250,686 loaded 20-foot import containers from August through October. That broke the old peak season import record of 233,825 containers set in the summer and fall of 2017.

Two factors are contributing to the increase in goods coming from abroad, spokesperson Mike Zampa said.

First: Retailers were eager to bypass another round of tariffs imposed from China.

More important: American consumers can’t stop buying stuff.  The latter is really the driver, Zampa said. Imports were on the rise even before tariff anxiety set in, he said.

The October figures skew the typical 50-50 split between between imports and exports. “We’re usually Even Steven,” said Zampa. 

Proximity to the California Central Valley, the No. 1 agricultural-producing region in the U.S., drives Oakland exports.

Transpacific trade routes also make Oakland a hot commodity for exporters wanting their produce to stay as fresh as possible.  Ships from China make their first stop in Long Beach, then Oakland before heading back to Asia.

“If you are an exporter you are going to wait until the last minute before getting your product on board,” Zampa said. “Oakland is the last minute.”

In fact, the Port is doubling down on exports.

Last week the facility opened a 280,000 square-foot cold storage and logistics depot that will be able to send up to 1 million tons of perishable product through the Port of Oakland annually.

Exporters of beef, pork and poultry are expected to be the primary customers, Zampa said.

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Linda Baker, Staff Writer

Linda Baker is a FreightWaves staff reporter based in Portland, Oregon. Her beat includes early-stage VC, freight-tech, mobility and West Coast emissions regulations.