A truck transports a shipping container at Qingdao port in Shandong province, China October 12, 2018. China Daily/via REUTERS  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. CHINA OUT
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President Donald Trump’s war of words with China is having an effect on its trade volumes — just not the way some might have expected. Container traffic across the Pacific has jumped. Ships are completely full. While that may not last, exports from south Asia may continue to surge.

Understandably, Beijing has struggled to make sense of Mr Trump’s attack dog tactics. Any lack of comprehension among government officials in turn has led to uncertainty among those companies that export to the US.

Judging from the surge in the price to ship a standard 40ft container, Chinese exporters and their customers have decided to fulfil orders before US trade tariffs become more widespread. Late last month, the US added 10 per cent tariffs on to $200bn worth of Chinese imports, on top of the $50bn already in place.

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Container rates between Shanghai and Los Angeles are up 40 per cent year on year as of September, according to Drewry, a consulting firm. Meanwhile, shipping costs to Europe have fallen. Bigger fleets in Europe make a difference, but the key driver is probably the import tariff concern.

This trade battle could also encourage a shift in production away to south-east Asia. Wages in China have already increased 11 per cent annually since 2008. Routes from there to the US west coast have also risen in price. While China-to-US rates may taper off in the coming year, those from south-east Asia should keep steaming ahead.

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