Fitch Ratings evaluates U.S. ports on eve of NAFTA decision

Another notable development Fitch is watching intently is how an expanded Panama Canal will influence cargo levels and shipper route planning.

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U.S. ports are positioned for another solid year of growth, though the Trump administration's evolving stance on both domestic and international trade is a long-term development worth a close watch, according to Fitch Ratings in its latest sector briefing.

 This after a strong 2017 in which ports on both coasts saw overall growth through the year. "Moving to larger ships and implementing operational alliances have helped drive volume growth on both coasts in 2017," said Emma Griffith, Director. "Overall volume growth averaged 7.7% on the East Coast and 6.3% on the West Coast."

The Trump administration's appetite for renegotiating trade agreements and implementing new tariffs will go a long way towards shaping future movement in both imports and exports. "The U.S. is already withdrawing from the Trans Pacific Partnership and there is the possibility it may do the same with NAFTA, which is likely to lead to changes to import and export volumes along with the trade routes, though such impacts are not likely to materialize until next year at the earliest," said Griffith.

Another notable development Fitch is watching intently is how an expanded Panama Canal will influence cargo levels and shipper route planning. East Coast ports did see marginally higher growth in 2017 as compared with their West Coast peers. Also likely to improve prospects for the East Coast is New York and New Jersey's air draft restrictions, which have recently been removed with the raising of the Bayonne Bridge. Meanwhile, other ports are pursuing dredging improvements for required 47-foot to 50-foot depths

In an interview with Logistics Management, Griffith also noted that elements of the Trump infrastructure plan are positive, such as raising the use of PABs and streamlining environmental approval requirements that may lead to quicker project development and approvals.”

“However, it is worth noting that the allocated federal funds are not new dollars, but largely reallocations from existing transportation funds,” she said. “Furthermore, reliance on matched funds from state and local governments may be challenging for these parties to meet.”

More broadly, added Griffith, provision of funding but without a longer term plan for infrastructure on the federal level seems unlikely to result in meaningful change given the “catch-up” required to address national infrastructure needs.

“The American Association of Port Authorities has estimated over $60 billion in investment is needed for the U.S. port sector alone, and the Trump program provides little clarity on how these needs are to be met,” she said.


About the Author

Patrick Burnson, Executive Editor
Patrick Burnson is executive editor for Logistics Management and Supply Chain Management Review magazines and web sites. Patrick is a widely-published writer and editor who has spent most of his career covering international trade, global logistics, and supply chain management. He lives and works in San Francisco, providing readers with a Pacific Rim perspective on industry trends and forecasts. You can reach him directly at [email protected]

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