California ports remain resilient: calm before the storm?

The Port of Oakland says its import business is still growing, as spokesmen report that its containerized inbound volume jumped 7 percent last month compared to April 2018. It was the busiest April in the port’s 92-year history.

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On the eve of threatened tariff increases, all three major ocean cargo gateways in California are reporting record container throughput numbers for April. 

Furthermore, the Port of Oakland says its import business is still growing, as spokesmen report that its containerized inbound volume jumped 7 percent last month compared to April 2018.  It was the busiest April in the port’s 92-year history.

The port said import totals have increased in three of the first four months of 2019.  It added that export volume edged up 1.7 percent last month.

Oakland’s trade numbers predated U.S. warnings of increased tariffs on Chinese goods that could take effect tomorrow.  The Trump Administration has threatened to boost tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports from 10 percent to 25 percent. China is Oakland’s largest trading partner.  A tariff hike could dampen import demand while also prompting retaliatory levies on U.S. exports.

“We entered this year with uncertainty over the trade outlook, so we’re gratified by the solid performance of import cargo,” said Port of Oakland Maritime Director John Driscoll.  “At the same time, all of us involved in global trade are concerned about what comes next.”

The port said that Oakland import volume has increased 5.8 percent through the first four months of 2019.  It attributed the gains primarily to continued strong U.S. consumer demand.  Oakland’s total cargo volume – imports, exports and empty containers – is up 4.6 percent, so far this year.

The number of vessels calling at Oakland in 2019 has declined 8.1 percent, however, as carriers are consolidating more cargo on fewer but larger ships to cut costs, the port stated. 

When asked if trade tensions will make it even harder for Oakland to attract a fully-loaded "first-call" vessel from Asia, spokesmen admitted that the long-term effect of this trade tension remains uncertain.  

“Cargo volume continues to grow in Oakland which reflects growth in the business of our customers,” said Oakland’s director of communications, Mike Zampa. “Our concern is that additional trade barriers could dampen their growth.”

About the Author

Patrick Burnson, Executive Editor
Patrick Burnson is executive editor for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review magazines and web sites. Patrick is a widely-published writer and editor who has spent most of his career covering international trade, global logistics, and supply chain management. He lives and works in San Francisco, providing readers with a Pacific Rim perspective on industry trends and forecasts. You can reach him directly at [ protected]

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