The maritime Port of Tacoma is the nation’s seventh busiest waterborne freight gateway for international merchandise trade by value of shipments. And it is our seventeenth busiest gateway by value when compared with all U.S. freight gateways—land, air, and sea.
In 2003, merchandise trade passing through the Port of Tacoma ($26 billion) accounted for 3 percent of the value of total U.S. international waterborne trade. These freight shipments accounted for more than 3 percent of all U.S. waterborne exports and 4 percent of imports. Tacoma is a major gateway for imports with inbound shipments accounting for 80 percent and outbound shipments of 20 percent of the value of freight it handled in 2003.
By weight, the facility ranks twenty-seventh among all water gateways, handling 15 million tons or one percent of total U.S. international waterborne freight. Although Tacoma is a significant gateway for both imports and exports, outbound freight shipments accounted for 63 percent of tonnage handled by the port in 2003. Between 1999 and 2003, the tonnage of cargo handled at Tacoma increased 17 percent. Imports grew by 35 percent to 5 million tons and exports rose by 9 percent to about 9 million tons.
Tacoma is primarily a container port, although it handles noncontainerized bulk cargo. In 2003, the port handled 0.9 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) carrying international imports and exports. This accounted for 4 percent of U.S. containerized TEUs handled at all our nation’s seaports. About 65 percent of the Tacoma’s containerized cargo was inbound. Over 70 percent of the port’s import cargo heads east by rail on one of the port’s two mainline railroads – Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific.1
Nearly 1,200 vessels called at Tacoma in 2003. Container vessels were the most frequent type to call at the port, accounting for 45 percent of the port calls. About 16 percent of the calls were by dry-bulk ship.2
Canada was the port’s leading origin country for imports by weight of shipments in 2003, followed by Japan and China.3 Taiwan was the leading destination for exports leaving Tacoma, followed by Japan and China. The leading foreign seaports for cargo leaving or arriving at Tacoma were Taiwan’s Kao Hsiung, Port of Tokyo, and Port of Hong Kong.
In 2003, the port’s containerized cargo included auto parts, machinery components, shoes, toys, frozen meats, and sea food. Other noncontainerized cargoes were automobiles, grain, wood chips, and gypsum.4
1 Estimate of rail share of imports from Port of Tacoma website, available at http://www.portoftacoma.com/files/SpSu04.pdf.
2 Dry-bulk ships carry homogeneous dry cargoes such as grain, coal, steel, and iron ore.
3 For official merchandise trade statistics, the Census Bureau reports Hong Kong separately. In this report, China refers to mainland China.
4 The Port of Tacoma website, http://www.portoftacoma.com/shipping.cfm?sub=49.