Waterborne Foreign Trade Containerized Cargo

Waterborne Foreign Trade Containerized Cargo

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As the world's largest trading nation, goods from all over the world flow through U.S. ports daily. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, transportation security concerns have emphasized the vulnerability of U.S. seaports. Of particular concern is international waterborne container import traffic. U.S. foreign waterborne container traffic more than doubled between 1990 and 2001 and was expected to continue similar growth over the next 20 years (figure 1).

Figure 1 - U.S. International Oceanborne Containerized Maritime Activity: 1990-2001
Figure 1 - U.S. International Oceanborne Containerized Maritime Activity: 1990-2001. If you are a user with a disability and cannot view this image, please call 800-853-1351 or email answers@bts.gov for further assistance.

NOTE: TEUs = twenty-foot equivalent units.

SOURCES: (1990-91) American Association of Port Authorities, available at: http://www.aapa-ports.org/pdf/US_Canada_Containers.PDF; (1992-2001) Journal of Commerce, Port Import/Export Reporting Service (PIERS), various container data files

In 2001, 18 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) of goods involved in U.S. foreign trade moved through U.S. container ports, up from about 8 million in 1990 (PIERS annual data). On a typical day in 2001, U.S. container ports handled an average of 50,000 TEUs. This large number of containers moving through the nation's seaports highlights the challenges in maintaining efficient flow of cargo while preventing the use of containers for terrorist attacks or smuggling of contraband goods.

Container traffic tends to be highly concentrated. The top 10 U.S. container ports accounted for 83 percent of containerized imports and exports in 2001 (measured in TEUs), up from 77 percent in 1995 (table 1). Three of the top five container ports in the United States are on the West Coast. Between 1995 and 2001, Los Angeles and Long Beach grew the most in terms of absolute amount of container traffic, reflecting increased U.S. trade with Pacific Rim countries. Los Angeles, California, and Savannah, Georgia, grew the most by the annual average growth rate. The growth rates for Savannah, Miami, and Houston reflect the expansion in U.S. container trade with Latin American countries.

In 2001, oceanborne containerized cargo handled at the Port of Savannah increased by 13 percent, making it the fastest growing port in the nation. This growth in the Port of Savannah's containerized traffic also shows increases in retail import distribution centers in the Savannah area. Several national retailers have large distribution centers for handling the thousands of TEUs transiting the port (Traffic World 2002).

Table 1 - Top 10 U.S. Maritime Container Ports: 1995, 2000, and 2001 (thousands of TEUs)
Ports 1995 2000 2001 Average number of TEUs per day (2001) Percent change (1995-2000) Average annual growth rate (percent)
Los Angeles, CA  1,849  3,228  3,425  9,384  85.2 10.8
Long Beach, CA  2,137  3,204  3,199  8,765  49.7  7.0
New York and New Jersey  1,537  2,200  2,332  6,388  51.7  7.2
Charleston, SC    758  1,246  1,156  3,166  52.5  7.3
Oakland, CA    919    989    960  2,630   4.5  0.7
Norfolk, VA    647    850    885  2,424  36.7  5.4
Seattle, WA    993    960    824  2,257 -17.0 -3.1
Savannah, GA    445    720    813  2,226  82.6 10.6
Houston, TX    489    733    778  2,132  59.1  8.0
Miami, FL    497    684    717  1,964  44.2  6.3
Total top 10 ports 10,271 14,814 15,088 41,337  46.9  6.6
Top 10, percent of total   77.1   82.6   83.4      
Total all ports 13,328 17,938 18,081 49,537  35.7  5.2

NOTE: TEUs = twenty-foot equivalent units.

SOURCE: Journal of Commerce, Port Import/Export Reporting Service (PIERS), various container data files.

Figure 2 - U.S. Waterborne Containerized Exports and Imports by Coastal Port Region: 2001
Figure 2 - U.S. Waterborne Containerized Exports and Imports by Coastal Port Region: 2001. If you are a user with a disability and cannot view this image, please call 800-853-1351 or email answers@bts.gov for further assistance.

NOTE: TEUs = twenty-foot equivalent units. Pacific includes Alaska and Hawaii.

SOURCE: Journal of Commerce, Port Import/Export Reporting Service (PIERS), various container data files.

Over time, the use of oceanborne containers in trade has affected the distribution of total maritime trade among U.S. ports. In the 1970s, when U.S.-Asia-Pacific Rim trade was modest, East Coast ports handled the majority of maritime international trade. As trade with Asia grew, the East Coast ports' share of the value of trade declined while West Coast ports' share increased. Also during this period, changes in industrial activity in the Midwest affected the volume and type of cargo moving through Great Lakes ports. Gulf of Mexico ports experienced a modest increase in their relative share as trade with Latin America grew.

Over half of U.S. containerized merchandise trade in terms of TEUs passes through West Coast ports. Nearly 56 percent of the containerized imports and 43 percent of the exports passed through these ports in 2001 (figure 2). California ports alone handled 48 percent of the container imports and 32 percent of the container exports. Although West Coast ports handled the most container trade, they also had a larger share of the oceanborne containerized trade deficit, in terms of export-import balance, than other regional ports. Today, West Coast ports serve more as import gateways into the United States than export gateways to the rest of the world. In contrast, East Coast ports handled more exports than imports (figure 2).

Container trade also affects the pattern of freight movement in the United States. Nearly all U.S. oceanborne container trade is transported by rail carriers, long-haul truck carriers, and local truck carriers to and from origins and destinations throughout the country. The availability and efficiency of intermodal transportation in moving these goods to and from any U.S. port improves shippers' choices of transportation modes and port facilities, allowing ports to effectively use their economies of scale to attract cargo from beyond their immediate region.

Table 2 - Top 10 U.S. Port of Calls by Vessel Type: 2000 (Capacity in thousands of deadweight tons)
Ranked by container capacity Port Container ship Container ships as percent of total vessels Average vessel size per call (DWT)
Calls Capacity Calls Capacity Total - all vessel types Container ships
1 Los Angeles/Long Beach, CA  2,955 124,281 55.5 51.2 45,616 42,058
2 New York and New Jersey  2,172  87,463 47.2 46.9 40,528 40,268
3 San Francisco, CA  1,936  82,958 54.2 50.9 45,614 42,850
4 Charleston, SC  1,547  62,463 71.4 76.5 37,701 40,377
5 Hampton Roads Area, VA  1,557  61,943 62.4 56.1 44,238 39,784
6 Savannah, GA    739  31,506 41.8 50.3 35,404 42,633
7 Seattle, WA    794  31,182 69.0 68.4 39,625 39,272
8 Tacoma, WA    568  27,950 47.5 59.3 39,439 49,208
9 Miami, FL    766  25,522 63.2 73.9 28,509 33,319
10 Houston, TX    614  19,799 12.0  9.5 40,521 32,246
  Top 10 U.S. ports 13,648 555,067 47.7 46.9 41,311 40,670
  Total U.S. ports 17,401 657,619 29.0 24.1 45,531 37,792
  Top 10 percent of U.S. total   78.4    84.4        

NOTE: Data include oceangoing vessels 1,000 gross tons and above. Capacity = DWT multiplied by calls.
San Francisco Bay Area includes Oakland, San Francisco, and other ports. Hampton Roads Area includes all Hampton Roads area ports (Norfolk, Newport News, etc.) Los Angeles and Long Beach are counted as one.

SOURCE: Lloyd's Maritime Information Services, Vessel Movements.

Similar to the containerized traffic trend, vessel calls at U.S. ports have also become concentrated during the past two decades. In 2000, the top five container ports handled over half of the containership calls and 64 percent of the container cargo capacity (table 2).

The top U.S. maritime ports also handled larger container vessels, measured by the average vessel size per call. The average size (per call) of container vessels calling at U.S. ports was nearly 38,000 deadweight tons (DWT) in 2000, up about 6 percent since 1998 (MARAD 2002). By contrast, the average size of container vessels calling at ports worldwide was 30,000 DWT.

In 2000, three U.S. ports, San Francisco Bay Area ports, Los Angeles-Long Beach, and New York-New Jersey ranked among the world's top 10 container ports when measured by the average vessel size per call, placing second, fourth, and sixth, respectively.

Figure 3a - Top 10 Trading Partners for U.S. Waterborne Containerized Imports: 2001
Figure 3a - Top 10 Trading Partners for U.S. Waterborne Containerized Imports: 2001. If you are a user with a disability and cannot view this image, please call 800-853-1351 or email answers@bts.gov for further assistance.

SOURCE: Journal of Commerce, Port Import/Export Reporting Service (PIERS), special tabulations, August 5, 2002.

Figure 3b - Top 10 Trading Partners for U.S. Waterborne Containerized Exports: 2001
Figure 3b - Top 10 Trading Partners for U.S. Waterborne Containerized Exports: 2001. If you are a user with a disability and cannot view this image, please call 800-853-1351 or email answers@bts.gov for further assistance.

SOURCE: Journal of Commerce, Port Import/Export Reporting Service (PIERS), special tabulations, August 5, 2002.

The top five overall U.S. containerized cargo trading partners in 2001 were all Asian countries: China, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea. China was the leading containerized merchandise trade partner, accounting for 27 percent of U.S. imports and 11 percent of U.S. exports in terms of TEUs. Japan was the leading trading partner for U.S. oceanborne containerized exports (figure 3a and figure 3b). Japan was also the leading U.S. trade partner for overall maritime trade by value in 2001, followed by China, and Germany.

U.S. imports and exports with its major trading partners vary by types of goods, and this affects the types of vessels, number of port calls, and the seaports used. For example, while most U.S.-Canada maritime trade involves agricultural products, lumber, and petroleum products, most U.S.-Germany maritime trade involves manufactured products such as automobiles and machinery. Also, while U.S. maritime imports from Japan were valued at about $7,000 per ton, U.S. exports to Japan were valued at $500 per ton, reflecting differences in the types of goods and the growth in high- value containerized imports to U.S. ports.

Table 3 - U.S. Waterborne Containerized Trade by Major Commodities: 2001 (in thousands)
Ranked by TEUs Exports Imports
Commodity Percent share Commodity Percent share
1 Paper and paperboard  12.4 Furniture   8.3
2 General cargo   7.3 General cargo   4.9
3 Fabrics, incl. raw cotton   4.2 Toys   3.9
4 Pet and animal feeds   3.6 Footware   3.3
5 Grocery products   3.0 Apparel and misc.   3.2
6 Synthetic resins   2.8 Auto parts   3.2
7 Logs and lumber   2.6 EDP machinery   2.5
8 Wood pulp   2.0 Plastic products   2.3
9 Auto parts   2.0 Bananas   2.2
10 Vegetables   1.9 Electrical and electronics   1.9
  Others  58.4 Others  64.2
  Total, all 100.0 Total, all 100.0

NOTE: TEUs = twenty-foot equivalent units. EDP machinery = electronic data processing equipment.

SOURCE: Journal of Commerce, Port Import/Export Reporting Service (PIERS), special tabulations, August 2002.

Contents of Oceanborne Containers

Given the large volume of containerized imports entering the United States daily from all over the world, a primary security challenge is determining the actual contents of the highest risk cargoes while ensuring efficient flow of the remaining cargoes. As the United States implements security measures to protect the nation's ports from terrorist attack, contents of imported containers is a major concern. Table 3 shows the leading commodity imports transported by oceanborne containers in 2001, based on shipper and carrier declarations.

In 2000, nearly half a million individuals and companies imported products into the United States. Of this, the top 1,000 companies account for over 60 percent of the value of all imports.

Oceanborne Container Entries

The challenge of handling large volumes of containerized imports from our trading partners can also be seen in the number of individual container entries processed by the U.S. Customs Service. In 2001, there were over 5.6 million oceanborne container entries into the United States, down 6 percent from nearly 6 million in 2000 (figure 4).

The number of oceanborne containers entering the United States was declining in the months prior to September 11 compared to the same months in 2000. The number of container entries into the United States in September 2001 was 19 percent less than in September 2000.

Figure 4 - Maritime Container Entries into the United States
Figure 4 - Maritime Container Entries into the United States. If you are a user with a disability and cannot view this image, please call 800-853-1351 or email answers@bts.gov for further assistance.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, special tabulation, April 2002; based on U.S. Department of Treasury, U.S. Customs Service, Mission Support Services, Office of Field Operations, Operations Management Database CD.

Figure 5 - Container Entries into the United States: 2000 and 2001
Figure 5 - Container Entries into the United States: 2000 and 2001. If you are a user with a disability and cannot view this image, please call 800-853-1351 or email answers@bts.gov for further assistance.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, special tabulation, July 2002; based on U.S. Department of Treasury, U.S. Customs Service, Mission Support Services, Office of Field Operations, Operations Management Database CD.

Container Entries By All Modes

In addition to the nearly 6 million oceanborne containers used to bring imports into the United States, over 13 million containers entered the nation by truck and rail from Canada and Mexico in 2001 (figure 5). The large number of containers crossing by land border into the United States by surface modes reflects the importance of U.S. trade with its top two trading partners.

While oceanborne container entries declined in 2001 compared to 2000, container entries by truck and rail increased slightly, reflecting the higher growth rate of United States-NAFTA trade compared to U.S. containerized trade with overseas countries.

References

U.S. Department of Transportation, Maritime Administration, Vessel Calls at U.S. Ports 2000, January 2002, Washington, DC.
U.S. Department of Treasury, U.S. Customs Service, Mission Support Services, Office of Field Operations, Operations Management Database CD, 2002.
Traffic World, Maritime Update: Sweet Savannah, July 15, 2002, Page 25, East Windsor, New Jersey.