The ports of Philadelphia and Wilmington, Chilean exports, and the rise of the Southeast

This post loosely ties together a few different ideas from a variety of sources.

What roles do the ports of Philadelphia, PA and Wilmington, DE have for overall national imports and exports.  What percentage of incoming and outgoing trade do they capture?  Over the past century, has their role been reduced?  If so, by how much?

This is how U.S. ports ranked by cargo tonnage in 2012.  I highlighted Philadelphia’s position (not Wilmington, DE) in the following categories: total trade, imports, exports, and total foreign tradeSee the document here.  I would like to find out more information regarding how Philadelphia’s rank has changed over time.

On Wednesday night, Sebastián Piñera (the ex-President of Chile) spoke at the World Affairs Council’s 65th Anniversary event hosted in XIX by the Hyatt at the Bellevue in Philadelphia.  The only remarks that surprised me during Piñera‘s talk were his references to the current governor of Delaware, Jack Markell.  The governor worked in the banking industry for a period of six months in Santiago, Chile.  He has since been an advocate for increased trade with Chile, and naturally for Wilmington to capture a large percentage of this trade.  He even personally led a trade mission to Chile in 2011.

The following spreadsheet is a chart from the USDA the highlights imports in the United States (as a whole) in fruits and fruit preparations.  I have highlighted the cells that pertain to Argentina and Chile in order to compare their success in exporting their fruit to the U.S. market between 1999 and 2014.

Here is the document:

04.10.14 USDA fruits and fruit preparation imports 1999 to 2014.

Notice that in all but the last category, exports from Chile grow exponentially, whereas Argentine exports generally stagnant or grow very slowly over the same time period for the export of the same products.  We should also consider that the official valuation of the Argentine peso may not be accurate.  An overvalued Argentine peso may have inhibited the country’s ability to export these products to the U.S.  Also, Chile benefits from a free trade agreement with the Unites States.  After the signing of NAFTA, Chile was even the first outside country to request full membership in NAFTA.

Lastly I wanted to mention that U.S. ports try to distinguish themselves based on a list of criteria.  Some of these criteria are: cargo volume, being a container port, an emphasis on imports or exports, being a deep-water port, having break-bulk or bulk cargo handling, etc.  In the latest edition of Trade & Industry Development,  March/April 2014, I noticed the large amount of advertized economic development initiatives from different regions and municipalities.

One of the most comprehensive outlines was done by the Moberly Area Economic Development Corporation (of Missouri) on p. 93 of the digital publication.  Other economic development initiatives such as Think Kentucky utilize geographic tools to help businesses find their own relocation sites (p.37).

However, ports still remain crucial for many economic development initiative organizations.  These organizations normally claim their port the best (or highly ranked) in some particular category.  How many potential categories exist?  It depends on how creative you are and what terms you decide to use to describe your port.

I suspect a there that ports in the Southeast will continue to benefit as global trade with the global south increases.  Northern ports will need to specialize in the imports and exports of very specific commodities to offset the losses.  Even in places such as Mississippi, major reforms are underway.  After the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, ports have the opportunity to rebuild bigger and stronger than before to capitalize on increased commerce flows.

Mississippi Development Authority, Amendment 5: Port of Gulfport Restoration Program. 7 September 2007.

This report from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Research and Innovative Technology Administration (January 2011) seems to be confirming my hinge.  See Figure 9: Top 25 Container Ports for U.S. Waterborne Foreign Containerized Trade: 2009 on page 21. There is an icon next to each port name.  This icon shows the percenatage of imports and exports for which each port is responsible. Notice the larger percentage of exports for the ports in the Southeast versus other areas of the country.  Other ports in the North and even southern California import much more in TEUs than those ports located from Texas to Virginia.

The AAPA (Alliance of the Ports of Canada, the Caribbean, Latin America and the United States) provides information for which can increase the scope of analysis. A link to port industry information can be found above. Within the first paragraph, they mention the ambiguity of classifying and comparing ports.  This brings us full circle to the beginning of this post…



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