March 2024 International Market Update


The following information from Sunset’s International team details the current International market conditions. Customer communication is vital with the instability of international trade. 

Sunset is here to help with the most basic or complex shipments.  Email [email protected] to speak further about how to manage any International needs that arise.

Ocean Industry

  • Panama Canal:
    • The Panama Canal Authority is taking further steps to ease some of the restrictions on transits imposed due to water restrictions. Starting late March, they are increasing the available spots for daily transits by a further 12% after delaying planned reductions earlier in the year. Two additional slots were offered through the auction system for transit dates beginning March 18, and an additional slot will become available for transit dates beginning March 25 for the original locks.
    • Data shows that there were just 46 vessels in the queue for transit as of March 14 from a peak of over 100 ships. Further, 37 have reservations, with only 9 in the queue without reservations.
    • Equally important, the wait times for transits have been reduced to under 1 day for northbound vessels without reservations, and 5 days for southbound vessels.
    • Under the latest plan, the authority will increase the number of daily transits to 20 through the historical locks that serve most of the vessels at the canal. Transits for the larger Neopanamax locks, however, will remain reduced at just 7 a day versus the recent level of 10.
    • Total transits as of late March will have increased to 27 per day which remains at nearly half of peak levels.
  • Suez Canal:
    • The latest figures show that container ship transits via the Gulf of Aden to the Mediterranean have dropped 91% from the first half of December, as around 620 vessels have been diverted, while bunker and crude tanker transits are down 37% and 31%, respectively.
    • Conversely, Cape of Good Hope tonnage arrivals have risen 81% since December.  The consequent disruption to critical trade routes has resulted in spot freight rates increasing by two to three times versus pre-disruption levels, while charter rates are up 28% from December.
    • Furthermore, Hamburg-based maritime technology firm OceanScore has calculated the widescale diversion of marine traffic is fueling the costs of shipping companies due to significantly higher exposure to the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), which imposes liability for 50% of emissions for voyages to and from the EU and 100% for port calls and transits within the bloc.
  • Trans-Pacific Eastbound (TPEB):
    • The situation is stable on both the East Coast & West Coast with isolated congestion.
    • Savannah: Waiting time for vessel berth at the terminal is up to 2 days, depending on the size of the vessel.
    • New York: There is no expected waiting time for berths at Maher Terminals LLC and APM Terminals. However, a 3-day waiting time can be expected at Port Liberty Terminal Bayonne.
    • LA/LB: No vessels at anchor, berth on arrival conditions. Dwell averaged 7 days’ dwell on IPI.
    • Oakland: Average wait time at Oakland Int’l Container Terminal (OICT) is up to 9 days, and 3 days at TraPac.
    • No waiting times at Husky, 4 days at Washington United terminal at Tacoma, 2 days at Seattle.
    • Vancouver: All marine terminals in Vancouver are facing heavy congestion, resulting from an inadequate supply of rail cars from major Class 1 railways.
  • Trans-Pacific Westbound (TPWB):
    • Persistent Panama Canal drought conditions coupled with elongated transit times from carriers moving via the Cape of Good Hope have led to increased demand for services moving via U.S. West Coast ports. The potential for labor disputes due to ILA labor negotiations has further pushed volumes west.
    • Transshipment hubs in Asia have been experiencing congestion issues, with cargo being delayed for as many as 10-14 days. 
    • With the Lunar New Year now past, demand is expected to decrease. As such, anticipate blank sailings to increase. 
  • Transatlantic Eastbound (TAEB):
    • The ongoing weakness and depressed volumes at TAWB is causing greater overcapacity issues on TAEB. 
    • Europe continues to be troubled with labor actions:
      • German train drivers and airport workers recently walked off the job. For train drivers, the freight transport strike started Wednesday, 3/6 with long-distance and regional train strikes following on 3/7.
      • U.K. Border Force, which handles customs and immigration controls, conducted a ballot on March 22 for possible labor action no later than April 5.
      • Italy saw a nationwide strike on March 8, affecting airlines, trains, ferries, and public transport. In addition, Milan’s public transport workers planned to strike on March 22, while state-owned railway company Ferrovie dello Stato (F.S.) will anticipated strikes on March 23-24. 

  • U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services: January 2024
    • January 2024: -$67.4B
    • December 2023: -$64.2B
      • The U.S. monthly international trade deficit increased in January 2024 according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and the U.S. Census Bureau. The deficit increased from $64.2B in December (revised) to $67.4B in January, as imports increased more than exports.
      • The goods deficit increased $3B in January to $91.6B.
      • The services surplus decreased $0.3B in January to $24.2B.


  • February’s U.S. container import volumes decreased 6% from January — a better-than-expected performance as the sector enters its slow season. However, other signs point to potential softness in domestic freight in March and April.
  • The 2.14 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) imported in February represent a 23.3% YoY increase, according to the latest monthly report from Descartes.
  • Amidst the Red Sea crisis, global schedule reliability continued to decrease, and dropped by -5.1 percentage points M/M in January 2024 – the same M/M drop as in December 2023 – to 51.6%.
    • January 2024 score was the lowest since September 2022. On a Y/Y level, schedule reliability in January 2024 was -0.8 percentage points lower than in January 2023.
    • Due to the round-of-Africa sailings, the average delay for LATE vessel arrivals deteriorated further, increasing by 0.59 days M/M to 6.01 days.

Future Lookouts

  • Weekly analysis: March 8, 2024
    • Across major East-West head haul trades – Transpacific, Transatlantic and Asia-North Europe & Med:
      • 50 cancelled sailings have been announced between week 11 (March 11-17) and week 15 (April 8-14), out of a total of 650 scheduled sailings, representing an 8% cancellation rate. 
      • During this period, 44% of the blank sailings will occur on the Asia-North Europe and Med, 44% on the Transpacific Eastbound and 12% on the Transatlantic Westbound trade.