Changing Shipping Routes

The Obama administration’s ‘Pivot to Asia‘ has focused some attention on our western ocean, but there are two other reasons for thinking a little about what the Pacific means to the U.S., both of them related to shipping.

Consider that three of the U.S.’s ten largest trading partners are Pacific rim countries: China, Japan, and South Korea. If you add in other partners who trade across the Pacific (Taiwan, Saudia Arabia, India, Singapore) you can get a sense of a substantial number of cargo-ships supporting the U.S. economy, and — in particular — the economy of the West Coast.

Two projects threaten to upset the economic status quo, though that probably understates the case. More accurately, two projects will alter the economic status quo despite the fact that we’re not paying attention to them.

First, the Panama Canal is being widened and deepened and in 2014 it will become profitable foe Asian container ships to bypass West Coast ports (we’re mainly talking about Los Angeles here) and travel directly to the Gulf- and East-Coasts, closer to the population centers. Which is to say the demand centers.

Second, the huge Danish shipping company A. P. Moller-Maersk is building a container-ship port on the West Coast of Mexico. The Port of Lazaro Cardenas has rail access to the U.S. via the Kansas City Southern Railway and could divert substantial shipping from Los Angeles and Long Beach.

By 2020 people along the West Coast will notice something has happened, I predict.

The excellent maritime blog gCaptain summarizes things well here.

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