Tuesday, March 15, 2011

West Coast Ports: Too Soon to Know Impacts of Japan Disaster on Trade

Major West Coast ports are reporting that it is too early to determine what impact the massive 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that devastated northern Japan on Friday will have on trade with the island nation.

The ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles handle more than $44 billion a year with Japan, with the major players being ocean carrier's NYK and K-Line and automakers Nissan and Toyota.

Japanese cargo represents 10 to 15 percent of the Port of Los Angeles' annual cargo volumes, while the neighboring Port of Long Beach reports slightly lower amounts.

The most of the major commercial cargo ports in Japan are located in the central or southern regions of the nation and were spared direct damage from the earthquake or tsunami. However, reports suggest that at least several major manufacturing suppliers are located in the devastated northern regions. Depending on the severity of the direct damage to these facilities – which remains unknown at this point – coupled with the ongoing difficulty of simply moving in an out of the hard hit areas as well as the nation's focus on humanitarian efforts, manufacturers in the central and southern regions could experience disruptions in their supply chains.

"Even though most of the ports are in the central and south, there are suppliers in the north that may have some impact on the supply chain, but it is hard to tell right now," Port of Long Beach spokesperson Art Wong said Monday.

According to the Port of Los Angeles, roughly 83 percent of the port's Japanese commerce is moved through the central and southern Japanese ports. Of the remaining 17 percent, 3 percent was moved through port of Sendai, one of the hardest hit ports by the earthquake and tsunami. The Japanese government estimates Sendai port, and up to five other northern ports, will be closed for "many months."

Staff at the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles both report difficulty in communicating with Japanese representatives.

The majority of the bulk grain and lumber exported from the United States to Japan moves through the various Columbia River ports. Damage to the northern Japanese ports "could potentially impact some bulk shipments," Port of Portland spokesman Josh Thomas told the Wall Street Journal.

A Port of Seattle spokesperson also told the Journal that about 15 percent of the port's annual container volume is either heading to or coming from Japan.

Over the weekend, Tokyo-based ocean carrier NYK Group temporarily suspended service on its Japan-China Express shipping service which called at Sendai as one of four stops in Japan and four in China as well as Los Angeles and Oakland.

While NYK reported that the company's offices are open in Japan, "telecommunication to/within Japan especially in the eastern and northern part of Japan is still unstable, and may continue due to planned outage announced by electric power company."

NYK also reported, "Due to the earthquake, operation has suspended at many ports in Japan last weekend and we may face delay due to berth congestion. The current situation may warrant a temporary change of rotation or omission of ports which will be considered on a vessel by vessel basis, to improve the schedule integrity."
Ocean carrier K-Line, which does not operate a regular service at any northern Japanese ports, reported Sunday that all of the central and southern ports it services in Japan were open, including Nagoya, Osaka, Tokyo, Shimizu, and Yokohama.