West hopes to come up trumps
North America, with the USA above all, of course, is currently in an intense realignment process. The latest political changes go hand in hand with modifications to the economy. It will thus be advantageous to first await the direction the country is set to take. Ongoing port projects, for example, are nevertheless expected to be continued, and new measures will surely also be introduced.
Consolidation amongst the world’s shipping lines is expected to continue in 2017, according to market observers. According to Alphaliner there are now only 17 lines left of the 20 providers that offered total capacities in 2016 of more than 200,000 teu, thus supplying more than 80% of global capacities last year. Further takeovers and mergers are expected to take place in the immediate future, so that the number of large global shipping lines is set to fall further to 13. The main cause of this development was a slowdown in trade on many routes – which brings us to the continent’s ports.
Five US container hubs in the top 50
Even if the USA (and Canada) were not in the eye of these recent storms, the changes in global trade patterns have nevertheless left their marks on North America’s ports and determine the activities that the gateways have planned for the coming months and years.
Only five US container ports are able to hold their own in a list of the top 50 gateways, according to the figures for 2014. Three of these are on the west coast. The latter fact is certainly owed to strong trade flows to and from the Far East, which are the country’s second-strongest (after those with Canada). Los Angeles (the USA’s No. 1) came 19th, followed by Long Beach (21st), PANYNJ (26th), Seattle (44th) and Georgia Ports (a conglomerate, 46th). Nine of the ten largest ports worldwide are located in the Far East, by the way.
Records and ambitions
North America’s largest container gateway, Los Angeles, handled a record volume of goods in 2016. According to Gene Seroka, the port of Los Angeles’ executive director, a total of 8.8 million teu were loaded and unloaded there last year, 8.5% more than in 2015. The hub’s managers have established that the main tasks facing the port in 2017 is to successfully face the challenges arising from the sea changes taking place in the shipping world and to reduce or compensate for any losses incurred as a result thereof.
To this end they will seek to optimise management processes, the hub’s information technology systems and the use it makes of its available handling areas. Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti knows that “records have to be broken to move the economy forward.” He pointed out that the port on the west coast’s new record broke one that was more than ten years old, from 2006, when the centre handled 8.4 million teu.
In the port of Long Beach, the USA’s second-largest container gateway, a little more than 6.7 million teu were handled in 2016, 5.8% less than in the prior year. A large part of the blame for this result fell on the Hanjin bankruptcy.
Green ports flying high
In this context Duane Kenagy, the interim CEO of the port of Long Beach, pointed out that his gateway has a well-financed investment programme lined up. It concentrates on improving the gateway’s infrastructure, training its employees well, making a series of improvements to the hub’s ecological performance and finding replacements for withdrawn shipping lines. Another one of the port’s foci is on the problems and the requirements related to ever-larger freighters. Long Beach hopes to retain its place on the world map of green ports in future too.
Focusing on the hinterland
There is good news from the South too. The Georgia Ports Authority (GPA), ranked 46th in the world, has reported that it handled a record volume of loaded containers in 2016 – 2.95 million teu. This figure is approximately 71,000 teu higher than in 2015. “Our good strategic location near many manufacturing plants as well as close to large centres of population, as well as our direct access to maritime routes in the southeast of the country, are some of the factors that attract our clients,” according to Griff Lynch, the GPA’s executive director.
The authority runs the ports of Savannah and Brunswick, as well as Georgia’s inland terminals, Port Bainbridge and Port Columbus. The latter are handy gateways for firms seeking to do business in the markets of Alabama, Tennessee or Kentucky. The hub also wants to contribute to president Trump’s aim of improving the ability of regionally-produced goods, such as cars, tyres, etc., to compete in global markets.