Seaports are a fundamental part of global trade. In 2017, seaports in the United States handled roughly 42 percent of all trade in goods, worth a total of $1.6 trillion. Ports not only enable exporters to expand their sales to markets overseas but provide domestic consumers with access to competitive foreign goods or items otherwise unavailable domestically.
Beyond facilitating trade, ports also employ tens of millions of people in the United States and provide local and national economic benefits. More cargo moving into and out of ports requires additional employees at the port and throughout the supply chains that exporters and importers rely on. The American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) estimates that 15,000 jobs in the United States are created for every $1 billion worth of exports shipped through domestic seaports. In 2014, seaports in the United States generated almost $4.6 trillion in economic activity and over $321 billion in taxes, according to the AAPA. Seaport activity has only grown since then.
Tariffs put those benefits at risk. President Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on all U.S. imports from China, and if Beijing retaliates in kind nearly a quarter of all seaport activity could be impacted.
Port authorities and private partners have reportedly hesitated to make investments to improve ports with infrastructure to handle modern cargo ships amid an uncertain trade environment. The next batch of tariffs on Chinese products would cover massive, multimillion-dollar cranes of which there are no U.S. manufacturers. Some U.S. ports have ordered cranes made in China capable of loading and unloading modern cargo vessels but could face millions of dollars in extra costs if cranes remain covered in the next tranche of Chinese tariffs, the AAPA has warned. The AAPA also fears that more generally, the competitive advantage held by U.S. ports over those in Canada and Mexico could be cut into due to the costs associated with President Trump’s tariffs.