Port of Los Angeles exec says US tariff tiffs could be 'new normal'

Los Angeles Port, the busiest US gateway for ocean trade with China. — Reuters pic
Los Angeles Port, the busiest US gateway for ocean trade with China. — Reuters pic

LOS ANGELES, Jan 17 — The executive overseeing the busiest US gateway for ocean trade with China yesterday said the “weaponisation of tariffs” to advance US policy interests may now be the “new normal.”

The comments from Port of Los Angeles Executive Director Gene Seroka came just a day after US President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu signed a Phase 1 agreement to defuse their 18-month-long trade war.

The partial pact will cut some US tariffs on Chinese goods in exchange for Chinese pledges to purchase more American farm, energy and manufactured goods.

“Even with a Phase 1 trade deal now inked with China, the use of trade taxes to advance policy may now be the new normal,” Seroka said at the State of the Port conference in San Pedro, California.

The Trump administration's “weaponisation of tariffs” led to a “debilitating trade war” that roiled global supply chains, rerouted cargo and had a measurable impact at the nation's No. 1 seaport, Seroka said.

Incoming container traffic at the sprawling Los Angeles port is dominated by tarrif-targeted items such as furniture, auto parts, apparel, footwear and electronics. Soybeans, a key export, were also hard hit.

Overall 2019 volume fell 1.3 per cent to 9.3 million TEU, or 20-foot equivalent unit, the second best volume performance in the Port of Los Angeles' 113-year history.

That came despite a 17.3 per cent decline in total container volume in December, when imports tumbled 20.3 per cent and exports slid 12 per cent.

West Coast ports, which send more than two-thirds of their imports to the eastern half of the country, are getting pinched as US retailers and other buyers of manufactured goods shift sourcing from China to South-east Asia and route products to lower-cost US ports.

That has “redirected some of our cargo through the Suez Canal to East Coast ports, costing us further market share and jobs,” Seroka said.

In the first 10 months of 2019, US imports from Asia to West Coast ports declined 3.2 per cent. Those imports increased 5 per cent and 17.4 per cent to East Coast and Gulf Coast ports, respectively, during the same period, according to Journal of Commerce. — Reuters

Related Articles