Exporters plea: Don't neglect Port of Portland

Exporters plea: Don't neglect Port of Portland

Exporters in the Pacific Northwest are urging large Oregon companies to import more goods through the Port of Portland to help entice large global shipping lines to continue serving the port.

The proposal came at the Columbia River Vessel Service Summit, which was hastily convened this week after two container shipping carriers at the Port of Portland said they will stop sending their ships to Portland by January. The departure of "K" Line America and Hyundai Merchant Marine will cut two-thirds of the port's container shipping capacity to Asia.

Exporters argued that if the region's major importers - including Nike, Adidas/Salomon and Columbia Sportswear - committed to importing just a small fraction of their cargo through the Port of Portland, it would prompt shipping lines to better serve the port, according to the Portland Oregonian. Most of those importers ship Asian-produced goods through larger ports in Southern California and the Puget Sound.

"Nike isn't going to commit 100 percent of their cargo to anybody, but if we can get them to commit 2 percent to 3 percent of their container base, 2 percent in our region adds up to a lot," said Bob Coleman, president of Portland-based Total Logistics Resource. "It's our job to make sure we offer them the most competitive service."

Paul Kelly, a Nike spokesman, said a low single-digit percentage of the Beaverton-based company's imports already come through Portland. Increasing that amount would require undoing efficient, carefully planned logistics systems, he said.

Beaverton-based Nike has some influence on container shipping lines' trans-Pacific routes, Kelly said, but "for the most part, they're determining the routing."

The summit drew 250 people, including agriculture producers, forwarders, port managers and other participants from at least three states. The fate of Columbia River container shipping will affect taxpayers as well as port users, participants said. Ports along the river are partially funded by tax dollars.

The plea for Oregon companies to import more was meant to address one of the Port of Portland's key competitive disadvantages.

The shipping lines are discontinuing Portland service in part because export volume far exceeds import volume. Hay farmers, french fry processors and lumber exporters depend on the port as a gateway to markets in Asia. But sandwiched between larger ports in Puget Sound and Oakland, Calif., Portland is a relatively small market for imports of consumer electronics and household goods from Asia.