The Port of Long Beach, considered the most important economic engine in the city, hit some rough waters last year in the shape of an unexpected Hanjin bankruptcy, among other issues, harbor department officials said during the annual State of the Port address Wednesday morning.
“This past year, quite frankly, tested us,” Lori Ann Guzman, president of the Port’s Harbor Commission, told a crowd of about 300.
While the Swiss company, Mediterranean Shipping, was able to assume Hanjin’s lease at the port’s largest container terminal at Pier T, a few months after the South Korean company filed for bankruptcy in August the port struggled, seeing a decline in cargo volumes, among other issues.
The port was also impacted by new ocean carrier alliances earlier in the year, contributing to the 5.8 percent decline in cargo in 2016, compared to 2015, officials said.
Perhaps just as unexpectedly as Hanjin’s bankruptcy was the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States, which has ushered in uncertainty to future trade policies.
On Monday, Trump fulfilled one of his campaign promises by withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has not yet been ratified, and is next expected to renegotiate the terms of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which could affect trade with neighboring Canada and Mexico.
Trump has also pledged to make Mexico pay for a border wall that he authorized to begin constructing this week, with many expecting that payment to come in the form of tariffs on goods imported from Mexico. He has also promised to make China “play by the rules” which has left many in the global market thinking that new US trade policies could set off a trade war.
“The new administration’s trade policies and their impacts on the port are still unclear, but here at the Port of Long Beach, we are ready to compete,” said Duane Kenagy, the port’s interim chief executive officer.
While an expanded Panama Canal was reopened last year, making competition for business growth in North American ports even more challenging, Kenagy pointed to current projects keeping the Port competitive, including the replacement of the Gerald Desmond Bridge.
Earlier in the year, the port hosted the christening of the mega ship Benjamin Franklin, and has continued ecological improvements as part of efforts to reduce environmental impacts.
Kenagy said improvements are still needed, including raising more cranes, strengthening berths, deepening water and upgrading rail facilities and highway access to make terminals more productive.
Harbor officials also laid out goals for the 2017 fiscal year, including increasing sustainability, financial strength and market share through its Strategic Plan.
“We saw mergers, changing alliances, and even bankruptcies, and now we face uncertain trade policies,” Kenagy said. “It is clear—only the most efficient and strongest will survive. But working with each of you—our customers and partners—I am confident the Port of Long Beach will thrive.”