North American ports are expected to see strong volumes in 2021 as the economy continues to rebound from the Covid-19 pandemic, according to an April report from commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield.
The firm’s North American Ports Outlook points to an expected 6.5% increase in GDP growth and an anticipated 21% rise in U.S. imports, factors that will help fuel strong performance, especially as congestion begins to ease at U.S. ports. Among the trends identified, the report points to a continued increase in larger vessels calling on major ports and a resuming shift in volume toward Atlantic and Gulf Coast ports.
“The trend toward larger vessels continues. Along with consolidation of the major ocean lines into three powerful alliances, this translated to fewer port calls [in 2020], and a further concentration of volume to the largest ports,” the authors wrote, referring to the carrier alliances 2M Alliance, Ocean Alliance, and The Alliance, which represent nearly 80% of global container trade.
Addressing the coastal split of traffic, they noted: “There was no shift in 2020 of East-West port coastal shares, marking a pause in a decade-long trend that favored the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. We expect the longer-term trend to resume in 2021.”
Looking ahead, the report says the story in the coming months is all about Covid-19 vaccinations and a “return to some kind of normalcy. This should drive demand for goods as well as services. Further out, the threat of tariffs or other trade disruptions, notably with China, still looms. Ports also face the need to restore shippers’ confidence in the aftermath of congestion and severely delayed cargo,” the authors said.
In related news, officials at the South Carolina Ports Authority said Thursday they will expand the rail-served Inland Port Greer, thanks in part to a $25 million BUILD (Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The expansion includes building additional rail processing and storage tracks within the terminal, expanding the container yard, enlarging the chassis yard, and building new facilities for heavy lift maintenance and terminal operations.
Inland Port Greer extends the Port of Charleston’s reach 212 miles inland via Norfolk Southern rail service; it offers a direct connection to the Port of Charleston and allows companies throughout the Southeast and Midwest to quickly receive imported goods and move exports to overseas markets.
The added capacity will support economic growth throughout the region, officials said.