and South America Even before last month's events, trade volume was slowing after several years in which ports regularly set cargo records. The fastest-growing North American container ports last year were Halifax, Savannah and Charleston, each of which posted increases of more than 16%, nearly four times the 4.10.S. GDP growth in 2000. In the short term, the slowdown will ease pressure to find solutions to congestion -- a growing concern at North American ports. But it's only a respite because few are predicting a long-term slowdown in trade volumes from the current economic and political upheaval.
The busiest U.S. container ports, Los Angeles and Long Beach, handled a total of more than 9 million TEUs last year. They won't match that volume in 2001. Final numbers aren't in, but this year's summer-fall peak season for imports is certain to fall short of year-earlier volume. Containerized imports through the entire West Coast, which handled 510f international containerized trade in 2000, were 3.59 million TEUs, down slightly from 3.61 million TEUs in the same period last year, according to the Pacific Maritime Association. Breakbulk ports also have felt the effects of a weak economy.After the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, U.S. ports are almost certain to face tighter restrictions on security. Immediately after the attack, Coast Guard and local officials stepped up inspections of ships and cargo. Legislation that would require additional steps is considered virtually certain to pass.
A year ago a commission headed by Sen. Bob Graham, D-Fla., identified ports as a weak link in the nation's security, and legislation introduced by Graham and Sen. Fritz Hollings, D-S.C., has been moving through the Senate. A separate bill by Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., calls for grants to ports and use of technology to monitor shipments.
Seaport security will be coordinated through the newly created Office of Homeland Security headed by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.
Other issues facing ports include such familiar ones as labor relations, dredging and privatization.
Several Latin American countries have been privatizing ports in an effort to improve productivity. In the United States, there are the beginnings of a movement toward increased private funding of port projects.
On the U.S. West Coast, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union has been the target of criticism by shippers, carriers and truckers. The ILWU and the Pacific Maritime Association, however, have toned down their rhetoric in recent months as they prepare for next year's contract negotiations.
On the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, the International Longshoremen's Association has extended its master contract for containerized cargo into 2004, and has been negotiating local and regional contracts for bulk and breakbulk.
Dredging is another perennial issue. In the 1980s, pressure for deeper channels came from shippers and carriers of bulk grain and coal. Now the pressure is from operators of huge new container ships needing channel depths of 50 feet.
Ports have been waiting to see how much Congress appropriates for deepening projects in the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1. Upward of $250 million is needed this year to carry forward major dredging projects at ports including New York and New Jersey; Wilmington, N.C.; Houston; Charleston; Baltimore; and Oakland.