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Chinese carriers are shipping more empty containers than full ones out of U.S. West Coast ports

Two Chinese carriers are shipping more empty export containers than loaded exports out of the two biggest ports in the United States, according to CNBC analysis of exclusive trade data.

CNBC analyzed the container data for 2020 and 2021 from the Port of Los Angeles, Port of Long Beach, U.S. customs and IHS Markit PIERS import export data. PIERS tracks U.S. Customs cargo shipping records.

The top two carriers that transported more empty containers than loaded U.S. exports out of the Port of Los Angeles were OOCL, which is headquartered in Hong Kong, and its parent company, COSCO, which is headquartered in Shanghai.

OOCL recorded a 35.1% decrease in loaded exports and a 104.1% increase in empty containers. COSCO transported an increase of 4% in loaded containers versus a 104.6% increase in empties. “According to industry-wide data, exports from the U.S. West Coast have been on a declining trend since 2019, due to a range of factors including changes in market demand,” OOCL said. “OOCL’s key hub on the West Coast is the Long Beach Container Terminal. For reasons of efficiency and cost, where possible we have been switching cargo from a range of ports to ship through Long Beach, inevitably leading to a decrease of our throughput at those other ports.”

Analysis of the Port of Long Beach data revealed OOCL topped the list with a 3.2% decrease in loaded exports versus a 31.61% increase in empty exports.

The findings come on the heels of the Port of Los Angeles reported another decline in exports, in March. The port has seen a decrease in loaded exports during 37 out of the last 39 months. U.S. exports out of the port have fallen to the lowest level since 2002. Likewise, U.S. exports from the nearby Port of Long Beach have fallen to their lowest level since 2009.


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