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Unprecedented consumer buying surge causes container rush at Port of Los Angeles

Port of Los Angeles handles 9.2 million TEU
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The Port of Los Angeles’ traffic in the second half of 2020 increased by 50% due to a retail consumer buying spree, according to Executive Director Gene Seroka.

Speaking at the ‘2021 State of the Port of Los Angeles’, Seroka said the Port’s container business was the most erratic on record due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In the second half of [2020], American consumer demand created a pandemic-induced buying surge that our economy has never seen before,” Seroka said.

“Our second half volume increase by 50%, in the week before Christmas we handled almost twice as much cargo (94%) as we did in the same week in 2019.”

The buying rush from American consumers came after the Port’s traffic plunged in the first few months of the year.

By May 2020, Seroka explained, the Port’s traffic had fallen by 19% YoY as imports from China stopped amid the pandemic.

The Port processed a total of 9.2 million TEU in 2020, a drop of 1.5% YoY, but still the fourth annual volume in its history.

“Our [International Longshore and Warehouse Union] workforce did a great job adapting to the huge swings in volume, as did port truckers and everyone else involved in moving cargo through our Port,” Seroka continued.

“In a year of great difficulty, we are extremely grateful for the tenacity and resolve of all of our partners.”

Infrastructure programmes continue

Seroka also that while the pandemic had caused considerable trade uncertainty across the world, the Port of Los Angeles continued most of its infrastructure programmes throughout 2020, including smart and green port initiatives.

“We said we would stay the course on our industrial and waterfront capital development programmes, and we did,” he explained.

“We said we would expand our digital services; we did that as well. We continue to lead in the global smart ports’ movement, we also led the nation in the testing and development of zero-emission drayage trucks and cargo handling equipment.

“We did that because we are committed to achieving our goal of being a smart, zero-emission port. In a year of great difficulty, we stayed the course on our priorities.”

At the event, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said the Port made Los Angeles one of the world’s great centres of trade and commerce.

“Our success is a credit to the cargo owners who place their trust in us, and to the tireless efforts of our longshore workers, our terminal operators, our truck drivers, and all the essential workers across the supply chain who keep our economy moving even in the toughest of times,” Garcetti said.

Joe Busciano, Los Angeles Councilmember, also addressed the event and said the Port remains competitive, efficient, and committed to responsible growth, despite the pandemic.

“The Port is also committed to improving our air quality, expanding security, and securing the latest technologies to ensure that the Port retains its position as the number one container port in America,” Busciano said.

“2020 reminded us of the importance of the Port of Los Angeles not just an economic engine and jobs creator but as a force to help our society in a time of crisis.

“The port was able to use its supply chain technology to help our city fight COVID-19, all while keeping the cargo moving.

“In the second half of 2020, our outstanding labour force and port terminals worked hard to process more month-to-month containerised cargo than this gateway has ever seen.

“Seaborne trade through our gateway is a major economic force for the LA region.”

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