January 24, 2019 / 6:10 PM / a month ago

U.S. importers stocked up on Chinese goods ahead of tariffs, says shipper Maersk

FILE PHOTO: Empty Maersk shipping containers are seen stacked at Peel Ports container terminal in Liverpool northern England, December 9, 2016. REUTERS/Phil Noble

DAVOS (Reuters) - Top U.S. importers stocked up heavily on Chinese goods in the fourth quarter before new import tariffs - part of an ongoing Sino-U.S. trade war - would take effect, the head of shipping giant A.P. Moller-Maersk said on Thursday.

“It was very clear that U.S. imports from China rose significantly in the fourth quarter, while exports to China fell. So quite the opposite of what the U.S. administration had wanted,” Maersk Chief Executive Soren Skou said in an interview.

Maersk is the world’s biggest container shipper with around 750 vessels.

Container shippers are currently in a peak season ahead of the Chinese Lunar New Year on Feb.5, but the spike in volumes at the end of last year will likely be followed by a slowdown after the current peak, Skou said.

“Container transport grew 4 percent in 2018, which is a bit more than growth in the global economy. So we can’t say we’ve seen any real negative impact from the row between the United States and China,” Skou said.

Maersk warned in November that the trade tensions and their effects could reduce global container trade by between 0.5 and 2 percent in 2019 and 2020.

“For the trade war to have such an effect on global trade there would need to be serious deterioration in the relationship between China and the United States,” he said.

Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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