Bryan Brandes, Maritime Director, Port of Oakland
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Bryan Brandes, Maritime Director, Port of Oakland

Uncertainty describes what is in store for the maritime business. I would anticipate modest growth for container volume in 2024. US export volumes are expected to rise along with a modest boost in imports. There are existing and future challenges that could affect the global supply chain. 

The decrease in consumer demand for goods in the US resulted in over capacity, the plummeting of freight rates in 2023 and canceled sailings. This created a lack of service reliability. Ocean carriers decide how much capacity there will be in 2024 and that will impact cargo volume potential.

New digital applications in the supply chain help move freight. This allows shippers and port operators visibility in real time — where containers are and how much cargo is moving. Leveraging knowledge of where ships are and when they’re expected at port, as well as providing accurate information about container location, increases efficiency and supports growth in the container business.

A couple of unknowns add to uncertainty. One is having a sufficient, skilled workforce available to move cargo. This includes mariners, truckers and warehouse, dock and rail workers.
Impact from future environmental regulation is another unknown factor. The International Maritime Organization is working on requirements for ocean carriers to address climate change. How those will affect container volume is unclear.

Regarding ports, transforming to zero-emissions facilities is necessary. Industry’s recent investments and implementation in upgrading equipment and enhancing operations at California ports bolster our business. These efforts improve efficiency, reduce carbon emissions and engender public support through greener maritime operations. 

The drought at the Panama Canal will continue to impact container traffic to Gulf and East Coast ports into summer 2024.

The big picture: With the supply chain improvements made following pandemic disruptions, modest growth in 2024 can be readily accommodated.