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Port of Oakland: Tariffs the Big “If” in Cargo Outlook

Credit: Port of Oakland
Credit: Port of Oakland

By The Maritime Executive 2019-06-13 02:18:28

Cargo volume is up again at the Port of Oakland in 2019, but Maritime Director John Driscoll warned the Port’s Efficiency Task Force that tariffs are squeezing customers who ship through the port.  

Fallout from the ongoing U.S.-China trade war could include reductions in containerized cargo volume, he indicated. “We’re hoping we can get through this period, because we believe the future can be bright.”

Driscoll said 2019 Oakland cargo volume is up 4.6 percent from record volume in 2018.  He pointed out, however, that China accounts for roughly 38 percent of Oakland’s business.

The Port handled the equivalent of 2.37 million TEUs in 2016. The number edged up to 2.42 million containers in 2017 and 2.55 million last year. The increase in volume this year is a pleasant surprise, Driscoll admitted. “We thought our numbers would go down because of the trade war,” Driscoll said. “It could still happen, but it hasn’t so far.”

Containerized agricultural exports are rebounding despite an ongoing trade war: farm good shipments in the first four months of 2019 increased 12 percent over last year. Ag exports to China rose five percent, after ag exports declined 10 percent in 2018.

“It’s too soon to declare victory in this segment given the trade outlook,” said Driscoll. “But our performance so far this year shows two things: there’s continued demand for U.S. farm goods and growers are resourceful when it comes to finding markets for their products.”

Through April, the Port said it had exported the equivalent of 108,724 TEUs loaded with farm products. That was up from 97,376 containers on April last year, and most shipments went to Asia including Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea and Japan. The average value per container of ag export commodities was $36,000. A year ago, the figure was $31,500.

Agricultural commodities account for about 37 percent of all international exports shipped from Oakland. The farm goods include containerized rice, dried fruits, nuts and refrigerated beef. Roughly 11 percent of Oakland’s ag shipments have gone to China so far, this year.

The threatened Trump Administration tariffs against Mexico would have negligible impact in Oakland. The port does little business there.

Port of Oakland Cuts Turn Times for Truckers

Truckers hauling Port of Oakland freight are getting in and out of town faster than ever. The port reported average truck transaction times of 62-to-72 minutes last month at Oakland marine terminals.  That was down from a high of 92 minutes in January. Truck transaction times – known as turn times – measure how long it takes freight haulers to drop off or pick up cargo containers. 

Turn times averaged 62 minutes in May at Everport marine terminal, 69 minutes at Oakland International Container Terminal and 72 minutes at TraPac terminal. 

The Port attributed turn time improvements to a series of measures implemented in Oakland over the past three years. The steps have included the addition of night shifts, a requirement for appointments before truckers can pick up cargo and completion of a two-year, $67 million expansion at TraPac.