By Karen E. Thuermer, AJOTNews surrounding the US economy may be gloomy, but the atmosphere at the Port of Baltimore is upbeat. That’s because business is soaring. Last year the port experienced a record-breaking year with total cargo moved through the port at $41.9 billion, up $5 billion over 2006 figures, according to Maryland Port Administration (MPA) figures. Exports reached 11.3 million tons, which was 35% higher than in 2006—the port’s highest overall export level since 1996.
This year exports are already up 17% and imports up two percent over last year‘s banner figures.
“Combining exports and imports, that gives us an increase of 6.9% over 2007 volumes,” says MPA Executive Director James J. White.
White, who is now entering his second year in that position after having served in the same role between 1999 and 2005, couldn’t be more pleased. “Given the condition of the world economy, we are very happy,” he says.
He attributes the port’s success to the fact the Port of Baltimore’s cargo is more diverse than most other seaports. That’s because several years ago MPA officials decided to concentrate Baltimore’s business on niche cargos that encompasses roll-on/roll-off (ro/ro) shipments of construction and farm equipment, as well as automobiles, and forest products. Consequently, the Port of Baltimore holds the No. 1 position for the importation of forest products, ro/ro cargoes, and automobile exports.
Baltimore’s forest products business, which is evenly split between rolled bulk paper primarily from Scandinavia and pulp from Brazil, is strong despite the devalued dollar. The weak US dollar makes European importers particularly more expensive.
Pulp shipments arrive to the port through Dundalk Marine Terminal; rolled paper comes into South Locust Point.
Despite bad news from the Big Three auto producers, export shipments of cars manufactured by Chrysler, General Motors, and Ford are strong. Last year Chrysler exported 200,000 cars from the port. In addition, exports of cars manufactured by Toyota and Honda in the United States are moving steadily.
“It has been an unbelievable year for us,” White says. “By year-end we should have exported 650,000 cars.”
No other port comes close to Baltimore’s dominance in ro/ro. For buyers overseas the dollar makes it such that to them it’s “buy two get one free.”
The majority is going to Mediterranean and European destinations, although shipments to Europe may begin to slow down due to its cooling economy. Exports to Russia remain strong as do those to Africa, particularly for used automobiles and construction machinery.
“The challenge ro/ro operators are having today is putting enough ships into Baltimore to take out the shipments,” White remarks.
Nevertheless, shippers find big advantages to using Baltimore for their ro/ro shipments. “That’s because all ro/ro companies call at the port,” White exclaims. “Shippers have their choice of carriers and can shop their rates.
In addition, manufacturers facing production delays have the option of shifting their bookings to another ship.
“They still do not loose transit time,” White says. “There’s also an advantage to shippers who deal in letters of credit. The letter of credit is posted and their shipment is immediately on the ship.”
The port ranks a solid No. 13 nationally for containerized cargoes, largely due to Baltimore’s location on the eastern seaboard and proximity to the Baltimore-Washington, DC area—the fourth largest population center in the United States. Already in Calendar Year 2008, imports are up three percent and exports up 22% for a total increase of 11%.
Shipments from Asia play big in the mix, with some steamship lines arriving Baltimore after traversing the Panama Canal to the US East Coast. Two years ago some 13.5% of Baltimore’s containerized import cargo business was a