Major ports in the southeast US are bracing for what they expect will be a double-digit decrease in cargo volumes due to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), with the effects most likely to be felt in mid-March through mid-April due to the longer transit times from Asia.
Savannah will feel the brunt because it has the most weekly Asian services in the region and is often the first port of call on a trans-Pacific route through the Panama Canal.
China accounted for $19.8 billion worth of Savannah’s imports in 2019 and has averaged $20.8 billion in imports over the last five years, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development. That is more than twice the total of Georgia’s second-largest trading partner overall, Germany, and three times greater than its second-largest Asian trade partner, South Korea.
It’s unclear whether coronavirus will alter the Georgia Ports Authority’s mid-single-digit growth rate for 2020 because the forecast includes a rise in resin exports to Europe and other countries not yet affected by the coronavirus.
Ports in Virginia and South Carolina will also experience a volume decline, but to a far lesser degree than Savannah because the two combine for only 22 percent of Asian imports to the East Coast.
The South Carolina Ports Authority anticipates a 15 percent drop in volume in March and April and then a snapback in May and June if normal trade flows resume.