Mexico takes a back seat to China for U.S. exporters of ag products

Fallout from an ongoing U.S.-China trade war could include reductions in containerized cargo volume

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The threatened Trump Administration tariffs against Mexico would have negligible impact on the Port of Oakland – the nation’s largest ocean cargo gateway for agricultural exports. 

In a statement late last week, the port’s Maritime Director , explained that Oakland “does little business there.”

Still, he recently warned the Port’s Efficiency Task Force that tariffs are “squeezing” shippers.  Fallout from an ongoing U.S.-China trade war could include reductions in containerized cargo volume, he indicated.

“Our customers are impacted by tariffs,” Driscoll told leaders from shipping, trucking, retailing and labor who convene quarterly to advise the port on operational policy.  “We’re hoping we can get through this period because we believe the future can be bright.”

Driscoll said 2019 Oakland cargo volume is up 4.6 percent from record volume in 2018.  He pointed out, however, that China accounts for roughly 38 percent of Oakland’s business.  The inference: tariff increases on U.S.-China trade could stymie further growth.

Meanwhile, containerized agricultural exports are rebounding despite an ongoing trade war. Indeed, farm good shipments in the first four months of 2019 increased 12 percent over last year. 

Port spokesmen added that ag exports to China rose 5 percent, despite that nation’s tariff standoff with the U.S.  The trends are welcome after Oakland’s worldwide ag exports declined 10 percent in 2018.

“It’s too soon to declare victory in this segment given the trade outlook,” said Driscoll.  “But our performance so far this year shows two things: there’s continued demand for U.S. farm goods and growers are resourceful when it comes to finding markets for their products.”

Through April, the port said it had exported the equivalent of 108,724 20-foot-containers loaded with farm products.  That was up from 97,376 containers in the same timeframe last year.  According to port data, most of those shipments went to Asia.  

Oakland port spokesmen said the average value per container of its ag export commodities was $36,000.  A year ago, the figure was only $31,500.

The port said increased export volume reflected the U.S. growers continue to see increased demand for their products in Asia.  They’re gaining in established markets such as Japan, but also finding new opportunities in places like Vietnam.

, the port’s communications director told LM in an interview that Asian markets outside China accounted for most of the growth in Oakland agricultural exports.  

“Among the leading destinations are Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea and Japan,” he said.  

U.S. producers have turned to those destinations since China imposed tariffs on American farm goods, making them more expensive for overseas buyers.

Agricultural commodities account for about 37 percent of all international exports shipped from Oakland.  The farm goods range from containerized rice to dried fruits, nuts and refrigerated beef.  Roughly 11 percent of Oakland’s ag shipments have gone to China so far, this year. 

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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Article Topics

China · Mexico · Port of Oakland · All Topics
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