Spaced Out

At the International Association of Ports and Harbors Executive Committee meeting last Friday in Los Angeles, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta had some interesting comments in his Keynote Address. He made early reference to maritime agreements forged between the U.S. and its principal trading partners, but he was quick to add that, “… all the maritime deals in the world will accomplish nothing unless we confront the twin challenges of capacity and congestion … it is critical that we continue to work together to build a more cohesive partnership among the world’s ports and harbors. This Association and I know that our future prosperity depends on it … today, efficiency is a prerequisite to survival”.

In the course of his address Secretary Mineta acknowledged; “the implementation of PierPass”; the Southern California Gateway Office in Long Beach; the Committee on the Marine Transportation System; SAFETEA-LU (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: a Legacy for Users); and TIFIA (Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act). He cited the formation of these organizations as steps taken to assure our future prosperity by confronting the twin challenges of capacity and congestion. Those organizations will do no such thing, however.
Even PierPass, the only step taken thus far to address capacity and congestion shortcomings, is just a stopgap measure having a temporary and even questionable effect. Next year’s volume increase will drown this effort. The other organizations mentioned, although the designations sound impressive, are probably no more than ad hoc committees and cute-sounding acronyms.

Secretary Mineta knows what the hang-up is though. “Our goal is simple,” he said. “Our nation’s maritime infrastructure must keep pace with soaring increases in global trade. Key ports around the globe are adding significantly to their own capacity, much of it aimed at funneling goods directly to the American market.” He couldn’t be more correct. Today’s (October 10th) BUSINESS LINE reports that U.S. retailers such as Wal-Mart, Gap and JC Penney have increased their imports from India this year. Besides textiles, there has been an increase in the shipment of granite, leather and tires from that country, but various problems in the U.S. are already affecting the supply chain, resulting in delays in cargo delivery. China’s government has forecast a 50 percent cargo growth through mainland ports during the years 2005 to 2010, with Shanghai alone growing to 20 million TEUs annually, an increase of 16.3 % over July 2004 and an increase of 8.3 % over June 2005.

There are no surprises in store for our terminal operators. Secretary Mineta is warning the port authorities of the coming inundation of cargo, and overseas authorities are even providing the numbers. And the preparations that are being made hereabouts? We’re forming committees. Let’s imagine that, tomorrow, in all U.S. ports, instead of the expected number of vessels, three times as many show up. Would a wider highway be of any use? Or a higher bridge? Or a 24/7 schedule? Or another committee? Couldn’t we just throw more money at the problem? Those fantasies miss the mark completely. The problem is the lack of space. That’s what Secretary Mineta was intimating when he said that, “… all the maritime deals in the world will accomplish nothing unless we confront the twin challenges of capacity and congestion”. S-P-A-C-E is the only solution.