America’s container seaports are gateways for both imports and exports. But, overall, U.S. seaports handle more TEUs of imports than exports. This U.S. deficit in maritime container traffic has been on the increase since the late 1990s. Prior to 1998, the deficit of U.S.-international container traffic was less than 1 million TEUs per year, but by 2005 this gap had widened to 9 million TEUs (figure 1). In 2005, maritime container imports accounted for two-thirds of container traffic passing through our ports, a major increase from just over one-half in 1995. During this period, the U.S. container trade deficit mirrored that of the overall U.S. merchandise trade deficit, growing at a similar pace. The United States’ position in container traffic directly relates to its position as the world’s largest trading partner with the world’s biggest economy.
U.S. container traffic nearly doubled over the past decade and the growth is expected to continue.
U.S.-international maritime container traffic nearly doubled between 1995 and 2005, and comparable growth is expected over the next several years (figure 2). In 2005, about 26 million TEUs of U.S.- international oceanborne trade moved through U.S. container ports, up from 13 million in 1995 (PIERS annual data). On a typical day in 2005, U.S. container ports handled an average of 71,000 TEUs, up from 37,000 TEUs per day in 1995. This large number of containers moving through our nation’s seaports highlights the significance of container traffic and its potential impact(s) on the economy, local communities, national security, and the environment. The growth in container traffic has resulted in increased vessel, truck, and rail services in and around port regions. Challenges posed by the large-scale movement of container traffic include: