It was a busy 2018 for international trade, as US retailers rushed imports to stay ahead of a gathering storm of tariffs. But in 2019, with tariffs in place and inventories high, imports could slow as the contours of the US-China trade tensions become evident.
Whatever occurs with the new year, seaports must resist reacting in haste. These disputes don’t last, and those ports that don’t plan for the future with a steady hand will get left behind.
Major capital improvement projects take years to complete. At the Port of Long Beach, we began modernizing more than a decade ago and have invested billions of dollars in terminals, bridges, rail and other infrastructure. We began preparing for a big ship future far in advance of most of our competitors. Three years ago, we hosted an 18,000-TEU vessel. We regularly handle ships that carry 13,000 TEUs, and we have a terminal that at full buildout will service 22,000-TEU ships. We are planning a major new on-dock rail support facility to prepare for the future.
It isn’t just about facilities, however. How does a port handle the flood of cargo that results from the bigger ship calls and also improve efficiency? That’s a challenge. Extended gate hours is one answer, especially if paired with a universal appointment system for trucks.
One more tool should be information technology. We’re exploring how data sharing offers greater cargo visibility and can reduce truck turn times and yard dwell.