Zepol's Blog of U.S. Imports and Exports

What is Trade Data and Trade Intelligence?

Although frequently used at Zepol, and by our customers, the terms ‘trade data’ and ‘trade intelligence’ can be a bit confusing to someone who has only recently been exposed to the information. Check out the definitions below for a better understanding of these trade terms.

What is trade data?
trade data and trade Intelligence image The term trade data can be defined as any type of information that refers to a country’s domestic or international trade of goods or services.

In the United States, trade data generally refers to the information based on the trade of goods imported into or exported from the country. This data is based on public information released from government groups like U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) or the U.S. Census Bureau.

What is U.S. Customs and Border Protection trade data?
CBP trade data is comprised of U.S. import or export bills of lading. These bills contain the detailed shipment information that is used to import or export goods. This shipment information can include fields like the individual products shipped, the shipper of the goods, the importing company, and much more. (click here to view a bill of lading sample)

What is U.S. Census trade data?
U.S. Census trade data is made up values and weights of imported or exported products labeled by commodity codes. These codes include HS, NAICS, SITC, and more. Different commodity codes are used by specific industries and government agencies to categorize and classify products and identify what groups of products are being traded.

What is trade intelligence?
Trade intelligence is when consulting or data firms take trade data and make it actionable. It’s the concept of formatting information and turning it into market knowledge to help businesses make accurate and confident decisions.

For example, Zepol collects this public trade data from CBP and U.S. Census. It then makes the millions of shipments, and commodity codes, searchable within a database. The specialized database provides trends, insight, and a higher ‘intelligence’ of U.S. and international trade. Companies subscribe to and use this intel to monitor competitors’ shipments, locate suppliers, generate sales leads, and analyze market trends. All of these uses are based on trade information that was arranged and displayed for actionable results, i.e. trade intelligence.

Halloween Imports Arrive Hauntingly Early

When retailers put out their Halloween section in August, we roll our eyes because it’s way too soon, but in reality most companies start prepping for Halloween as early as April. Not only do businesses think about trick-or-treating during their Easter-egg-hunt, they also import a spooky amount of this mysterious merch' all summer long. In fact, so far in 2014 U.S. companies have imported over 65,000 metric tons of Halloween paraphernalia, with the majority arriving in June, July, and August. That’s the equivalent to three ocean cargo-ships (18,000+ containers) filled to the rim with orange and black goodies.

The heaping portion of Halloween imports isn’t costumes or candy, but actually decorations. Nearly half of the total Halloween imports this year are strictly items like ghoulish garland, scary sculls, and treacherous tombstones, AAAAHHH! All imported to make your haunted house or costume party witchin’ this October.

So who is importing all these nightmares? The top importing company of Halloween products is Dollar Tree Distribution, which imported over 8,000 metric tons so far this year. Other major Halloween importers include: Michael’s Stores, Spencer Gifts, and Dollar General. So there should be no shortage of 99-cent tricks or treats this year and available in stores months before you need them.
Halloween Monthly Product Imports

Imports Rise on School Supplies

It's back to school once again for kids and parents, but U.S. retailers were prepping for this months ago. Most school supplies were imported in May, June, and July to get ready for the high August demand. Pencils, notebooks, and backpacks are among the many products that see an increase in imports during the summer.

Annually, imports of school supplies like notebooks, pens, pencils, crayons, backpacks, scissors, boards, and glue are valued at an estimated $2 billion. With 39.4 percent arriving in the United States during these “peak” months, the value of school supplies to the United States from May 2014 – July 2014 is just above $946.5 million.

School Supplies Imports

This time of year has the largest volume of imports for some of these products, with values doubling or even tripling to accommodate the back-to-school rush. For example, annual imports of backpacks (HTS 4202.92.3020) from August 2013 – July 2014 totaled just over $692 million, while roughly $334 million of these imports occurred in the past few months. That is roughly 48 percent of the total yearly imports concentrated over a three-month period.

Another top import during this period is notebooks, (HTS 4820.10.2060, HTS 4820.10.2040, HTS 4820.10.2030) which bring in $279 million annually. This summer's imports of notebooks reached about 50 percent of their annual import value, or an estimated $141 million.

Though it is difficult to see on the chart above, of the common school supplies imported, scissors (HTS 8213.00.3000) did see a significant increase in imports for May and June. Scissors may not be the highest-valued import, but over the summer months about $593,000 of scissors were imported, which was 44 percent of all scissor imports for the last year. Last year's total value of shipments reached just over $1.3 million.

What Foods the U.S. Exports to Russia

Russia’s new ban on U.S. food imports has the United States wondering how much food we actually export to the country and how it will affect U.S. companies. Surprisingly, the United States exports a significant amount of food to Russia. In 2013, the United States exported over $650 million worth of dairy, meat, fruit, vegetables, poultry, and fish (the banned food items). This accounts for 1.3% of all U.S. food exports in those categories.US food exports to Russia

Although the percentage of food exported to Russia seems small, it could affect some U.S. businesses in a big way. The food industries that will be hit the hardest by this ban are meat and poultry, tree nuts, and fish. So far in 2014 (Q1-Q2), the United States has exported $127 million worth of poultry, $63 million in meat, $58 million in tree nuts, and $27 million in fish to Russia. More specifically, the top U.S. food products exported in 2013 were frozen leg quarters of chicken (HTS 0207.14.0010), almonds (HTS 0802.12.0000), and salmon roe (HTS 0303.90.4040).

Russia stated that the ban would last one year with the potential to extend even longer. Some speculate that the ban will actually hurt Russia and not so much the United States, but only time will tell.

Below is the top 10 U.S. exports of food to Russia for the past 3 years by NAICS Code.
(North American Industry Classification System)
NAICS 2012 2013 2014
TOTAL $1,087,473,869 $650,838,861 $305,708,933
311615 - Poultry, Prepared Or Preserved $304,088,958 $306,907,487 $127,612,686
311611 - Meat Products (except Poultry) $554,638,476 $16,978,676 $63,356,105
111335 - Tree Nuts $125,646,792 $174,191,688 $58,356,133
114111 - Finfish Fresh, Chilled Or Frozen And Other Finfish Products $40,333,703 $71,870,226 $27,262,832
114112 - Shellfish Fresh, Chilled Or Frozen and Other Shellfish Products $7,038,373 $8,077,735 $5,966,952
311423 - Dried And Dehydrated Foods $9,136,575 $12,498,008 $5,048,603
111331 - Apples $8,535,279 $13,260,402 $4,619,515
111130 - Dry Peas And Beans $3,150,765 $5,208,471 $4,563,706
111339 - Other Non Citrus Fruits $10,222,389 $16,718,294 $2,412,301
1123XX - Poultry And Eggs $16,212,054 $12,563,100 $1,447,084

West Coast Port Imports | Potential Strike Impacts June and July Supply Chain

West Coast Port Imports 2014West Coast port contracts for the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association were up as of July 1st. According to a Forbes article, the two unions account for about 20,000 workers across 29 West Coast ports. If these unions actually cease work it could put a giant dent in U.S. trade. 

U.S. importers and retailers have prepared for a potential strike by ramping up imports for the month of June, which experienced some unusually high import volume. U.S. TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units or containers) imports at West Coast ports in June were nearly 10% higher than June of 2013 and totaled over 880,000 TEUs.

Most of this surge was seen at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. Combined, the two ports account for 75% of all imports to the Pacific West Coast. Long Beach increased TEU imports in June by 8% compared to June of 2013 and Los Angeles rose 14%.

Other West Coast ports experienced high imports as well. The port of Tacoma posted its highest TEU import volume ever in June. The port brought in about 80,000 TEUs, which was 22% higher than May and 29% higher than its monthly average for the last 12 months.

So far in July, West Coast ports aren’t ‘dockin and rollin’ as hard as June in terms of imports. In the first 23 days of July, West Coast ports imported a little over 655,000 TEUs. That’s about 3% less compared to the same time last year. June may have been the peak month for holiday imports, or volume could pick back up in August as the threat of a supply-chain nightmare sails into the past. Either way, just the whisper of a strike had a drastic effect on U.S. imports for June, let’s hope one doesn’t actually happen. 

top 5 west coast ports graph 2014

*Data Note* The data and import numbers in this report do NOT include empty containers or containers labeled as freight remaining on board a ship. These numbers come exclusively from Zepol's U.S. Customs database, TradeIQ Import.