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Port of Charleston sets all-time container cargo record

The Port of Charleston set a single-month record in August with 206,541 cargo containers measured in 20-foot increments moving through the port’s terminals. Provide/State Ports Authority

The Port of Charleston set a single-month record in August for the amount of containerized cargo moving through its terminals, breaking a mark set just two months earlier.

The State Ports Authority said it handled 206,541 cargo boxes measured in 20-foot increments last month, with global trade tensions apparently having no impact on business at the port’s terminals. The August figures top the previous record of 201,163 20-foot-long containers set in June.

August volumes were 16 percent higher than the same month a year ago. For the fiscal year, which started July 1, container volumes are up 13 percent.

Jim Newsome, the authority’s president and CEO, said the port “has experienced incredibly strong growth” this year despite a growing trade war between the United States and China.

“Fall is typically a seasonally strong time for our port, and while we look forward to continued growth through 2018, we will continue to monitor the potential for tariff negotiations to adversely impact containerized trade if prolonged or not otherwise resolved successfully,” Newsome said.

The authority said it is still compiling August statistics for other types of cargo, such as breakbulk shipments and exports of finished vehicles mostly from German automaker BMW’s plant in Spartanburg County.

Vehicle exports fell 14.5 percent through the first two months of this fiscal year as China imposed an additional 25 percent tariff on vehicles sent to that country from the United States. The tariff was in response to similar duties on Chinese goods initiated by President Donald Trump. China is the BMW plant’s biggest export market.

BMW said its overall production totals in Spartanburg County fell 11.3 percent in August — to 23,452 vehicles from 26,454 a year ago. It’s not clear how much of that is due to Chinese tariff impacts. The tariffs are coming at a time when Chinese consumers are buying fewer SUVs, like the ones BMW builds at its Palmetto State plant.

The rise in containerized cargo is largely due to larger ships traveling from Asia to East Coast ports through the expanded Panama Canal. The authority, along with state and federal governments, is spending about $2 billion to deepen Charleston Harbor, build a new container terminal, buy equipment and pay for other infrastructure to better accommodate the larger vessels.

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