A Bottleneck at California Ports Squeezes Manufacturers
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The ship stuck in the Suez Canal may have gotten all the attention, but it wasn’t the biggest shipping problem of the year. That honor goes to the massive traffic jam at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which has dragged on since late 2020.
As NAM Director of Infrastructure, Innovation and Human Resources Policy Ben Siegrist tells us, this bottleneck is a huge problem for manufacturers in the U.S.—one that is costing our economy many billions of dollars. Dozens of ships are waiting in the harbor for days before they are able to unload, exporters are struggling to get their goods out of the country, and other manufacturers are waiting months for parts or finished goods to arrive.
The problem: The numbers tell the tale: at one point in mid-April, there were 23 ships waiting to dock at the ports, according to The Wall Street Journal (subscription), down from around 40 back in February. For comparison, Siegrist explains, the normal number of ships waiting in harbor is somewhere between 0 and 1.
Why it’s happening: Much of the congestion results from the pandemic—there has been an uptick in e-commerce during the lockdowns, and the economic stimulus has boosted consumption. Meanwhile, the typical increase in shipments during the holiday season just made things worse.
However, other factors are making this congestion particularly hard to fix, says Siegrist. These include:
- A shortage of shipping containers: First of all, shippers don’t have enough containers in the absolute for all of these goods. But in addition, some of them are finding it cheaper to unload in the U.S. and then send the empty containers back to Asia—to the disadvantage of U.S. manufacturers that want to load those containers with exports.
- A shortage of chassis: The trucks that transport containers to warehouses require special chassis to move the containers, but the ports also don’t have enough of these.
- A labor shortage: Like many other Americans, port workers had to deal with COVID-19 infections or exposures as well as cope with family responsibilities during the pandemic.
Logistical complications: Meanwhile, the logistics of international shipping are incredibly complicated, Siegrist explains. There are fewer ocean carriers today—only nine, down from more than 20 a few decades ago—which means manufacturers have fewer competitive shipping options. And the complex relationships between the multiple carriers, port operators and equipment owners are not easy to disentangle or control.
What do we do? Thanks in large part to the complexity of international shipping, there’s no easy answer, says Siegrist. Right now, the NAM is in discussions with the many federal agencies involved in international commerce, including the Department of Transportation, the Department of Commerce, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and a lesser known but vital agency called the Federal Maritime Commission. “We’re trying to create opportunities for our members to have a dialogue with policymakers,” says Siegrist.
- The eventual policy options might range from fines or fees for international carriers to legislative updates to the 1984 Shipping Act.
- It will also be important to strengthen the domestic supply chain for equipment like containers—almost none of which are now made in the U.S. The NAM is “talking more holistically about supply chains with the Biden administration,” notes Siegrist.
Stay tuned: The FMC will release its investigation into pandemic-related shipping delays in the coming weeks.
Manufacturers Unveil Competitiveness Agenda Ahead of Midterm Elections
“Competing to Win” offers a path for bringing the country together around policies, shared values and a unified purpose
Washington, D.C. – Ahead of the midterm elections, the National Association of Manufacturers released its policy roadmap, “Competing to Win,” a comprehensive blueprint featuring immediate solutions for bolstering manufacturers’ competitiveness. It is also a roadmap for policymakers on the laws and regulations needed to strengthen the manufacturing industry in the months and years ahead.
With the country facing rising prices, snarled supply chains and geopolitical turmoil, manufacturers are outlining an actionable competitiveness agenda that Americans across the political spectrum can support. “Competing to Win” includes the policies manufacturers in America will need in place to continue driving the country forward.
“‘Competing to Win’ offers a path for bringing our country together around policies, shared values and a unified purpose,” said NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons. “The NAM is putting forward a plan filled with ideas that policymakers could pursue immediately, including solutions to urgent problems, such as energy security, immigration reform, supply chain disruptions, the ongoing workforce shortage and more. Manufacturers have shown incredible resilience through difficult times, employing more workers now than before the pandemic, but continued resilience is not guaranteed without the policies that are critical to the state of manufacturing in America.”
The NAM and its members will leverage “Competing to Win” to shape policy debates ahead of the midterm elections, in the remainder of the 117th Congress and at the start of the 118th Congress—including in direct engagement with lawmakers, for grassroots activity, across traditional and digital media and through events in key states and districts as we did following the initial rollout of the roadmap in 2016.
The document focuses on 12 areas of action, and all policies are rooted in the values that have made America exceptional and keep manufacturing strong: free enterprise, competitiveness, individual liberty and equal opportunity.
Learn more about how manufacturers are leading and about the industry’s competitiveness agenda at nam.org/competing-to-win.
The National Association of Manufacturers is the largest manufacturing association in the United States, representing small and large manufacturers in every industrial sector and in all 50 states. Manufacturing employs more than 12.8 million men and women, contributes $2.77 trillion to the U.S. economy annually and accounts for 58% of private-sector research and development. The NAM is the powerful voice of the manufacturing community and the leading advocate for a policy agenda that helps manufacturers compete in the global economy and create jobs across the United States. For more information about the NAM or to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, please visit www.nam.org