Source: adapted from Journal of Commerce.
American Foreign Trade by Maritime Containers, 2010 (in TEUs)
American containerized trade is characterized by an asymmetry between
the nature of its imports and exports. North American retailers account
for a substantial share of containerized imports, mostly involving finished
consumption goods bound to major inland freight distribution centers.
The largest importers, such as Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Target, Sears,
Costco, Ikea and Lowe's, are all mass (Big Box) retailers relying on
high volume and low margin goods, which are dominantly produced in China.
It is worth mentioning that about 60% of all Chinese trade surplus with
the United States is the outcome of American owned firms operating in
China and importing their output to the United States.
Exporters show a completely different profile. A major category of
containerized exports concerns recycles with exporters such as America
Chung Nam, Potential Industries or Cedarwood-Young. Other major exporters
include diversified resource-based (Koch Industries) forest and paper products (e.g. Weyerhaeuser, International
Paper), agribusiness (e.g. Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland) or chemicals
(e.g. Dow, DuPont). Yet, a significant containerized trade imbalance
remains. For the major transpacific and transatlantic trade routes,
while in 2008 18.9 million TEU were imported in the United States, only
8.5 million TEU of laden containers were exported. Thus, above 10 million
TEU needed to be repositioned empty.
The trade asymmetry being depicted is reflected in the
relative value of imports and exports. While the average value
of American imports are at about $4.75 per kilogram, the value
of exports stand at $2.50 per kilogram. This has also significant impacts on North
American logistics. The import driven segment involves a series of stages
to reach a multitude of outlets with a freight density correlated with
population density. Since the retail trade is essentially unidirectional,
a great deal of retail goods are transloaded at gateways into domestic
containers while the maritime (ISO) containers are re-exported empty.
The export driven segment relies on the massification of shipments at
major gateways and inland ports. Since many resources (chemicals, forest
products, food) are extracted inland at locations that rarely correspond
to significant population centers, the reconciliation of containerized
import and export logistics is a challenging task. While millions of
TEUs will leave American ports empty, many inland locations are facing