Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ports Vie For North American Container Shipping Trade

Central US Freight Traffic is a Tempting Prize for Neighbours
Shipping News Feature

US – Normally a pronouncement from the Mexican Secretariat of Communications and Transport (SCT) that the country intended to become the number one choice for ports of access for the lucrative US box trade would be met with howls of derision. In current circumstances however US ports are coming under increasing pressure from their neighbours to both North and South. Import container freight has always been the target of both East and West Coast US ports but now the race to acquire reduced cargo traffic levels is hotting up.

In Mexico head of the SCT, Juan Francisco Molinar Horcasitas, is reported to have declared that he wants Mexico to become the first port of call for vessels arriving from Asia. The SCT boss has apparently announced it has plans to spend $2.8 billion on infrastructure development. The SCT is known to be keen on the development of Public Private Partnerships to proceed with such schemes. Improvements are planned to the South Arc corridor and the Matamoros Railroad which sits a few kilometres over the border from Brownsville, Texas.

In Canada the traditional rivalry between ports like Port Metro Vancouver with around 70 million tons cargo turnaround, and its US competitors Seattle and Tacoma continues apace with all three fighting to increase their share of what has been this past year a dwindling trade.

Meanwhile Los Angeles and Long Beach have started an aggressive campaign to at least retain their share of what has become a difficult market. The two California giants have seen their market share dwindle from almost 16 million TEU’s to under 12 million in under a year. The two rivals seem to be adopting similar strategies by accepting reduced revenues for cargo handling to secure future business, much as the shipping lines themselves are wont to do. The ports argue that the support they receive from the numerous arrivals, plus the excellent transport links and scale of their operations means they will always be an attractive proposition compared to their many rivals.

The fact is that choice in the US freight handling market will continue to put pressure on the port operators, customers will always keep a weather eye out for a good deal but remain wary that a single entry point for their precious cargo leaves them vulnerable to vagaries of weather and labour disputes.

As with both shipping companies and the major trucking groups 2010 may prove to be the survival of the fittest.

Photo : Courtesy of Port of Seattle