Port Execs Travel to China in Hopes
by Art Marroquin
Hoping to lure back Asian shippers, executives from the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and four other West Coast shipping hubs traveled to China on Wednesday with executives from two western railroad companies.
The local executives and representatives of the ports of Oakland, Portland, Seattle and Tacoma, along with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific railroads, are promoting their facilities during the World Shipping Summit in Qingdao, China, scheduled to run through Friday.
The collaborative effort among the West Coast's six largest ports comes as competition for Asian trade is on the rise from ports in Canada, Mexico and the East Coast.
"Today's economic conditions have compelled all of us to take a closer look at how we conduct our business to discover new approaches that yield improved results," Omar Benjamin, executive director of the Port of Oakland, said in a written statement.
"This is happening throughout the entire supply chain and U.S. West Coast ports and western railroads are no exception," he said. "Our mission is to further strengthen the U.S. West Coast ports' position as the preferred gateway for Asia cargo to and from the Midwest and cities further east." The port authorities and railroad companies began meeting earlier this year to discuss how to take advantage of their combined resources while staving off competition from other ports.
The group traveled during the summer to Washington, D.C., to lobby federal lawmakers for the creation of a national freight movement policy in the United States, while also providing funds for a series of highway, rail and bridge improvements.
"The U.S. West Coast ports are major players in world trade because of our deep water, vast container terminals, an unrivaled roadway and rail network, and the neighboring warehousing to complement our ports," Richard Steinke, executive director of the Port of Long Beach, said in a written statement.
"These advantages enable us to handle more than $450 billion in trade a year," he said. "We are the best way to move trade between the U.S. and Asia."
One area of concern for the West Coast ports is the fact that Canadian ports are competing with them to deliver goods to the Chicago area. The Midwest currently ranks as the second-largest market for the San Pedro Bay ports after the Southwest.
Officials at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach have said that losses reported over the past two years can largely be blamed on the ongoing economic recession, along with a diversion of cargo to Canada. Chinese ships crossing the Pacific Ocean can usually get to ports in Prince Rupert or Vancouver three days faster than traveling down to Los Angeles or Long Beach.
Despite that, the West Coast offers more rail and highway connections to the Midwest than their Canadian counterparts.
"Beyond our local markets, the West Coast ports offer 200 to 250 weekly trains to all major intermodal hubs in the United States," Geraldine Knatz, executive director of the Port of Los Angeles, said in a written statement.
"Our terminals are served by both on-dock and near-dock facilities that guarantee cargo shipments leave our docks within eight hours of arrival by ship," she said. "Transit times from China to the West Coast are 10 to 14 days, with rail from four to six days to the Midwest and East Coast."
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