After holding the ranking as the second-busiest container port in the United States for decades, the Port of Long Beach has been overtaken by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey after a shift in market share toward the East and Gulf coasts over the past two years.
Long Beach set all-time cargo records six out of the first nine months this year. The other three months were nearly record-setting. In September, however, cargo volumes in Long Beach and neighboring Los Angeles began to slip.
By the end of October, the East Coast port overtook Long Beach in container volumes year-to-date. The gap widened further after November figures for the ports were released.
Through November, New York-New Jersey has handled 8,880,653 20-foot-equivalent units, or TEUs (the standard measure of a shipping container), while Long Beach has moved 8,589,554.
“We believe at least some of this cargo will return and we’re working hard to make that happen,” Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero said in an email Friday. “The Port of Long Beach has built some of the most advanced and efficient terminals anywhere in the world, offering customers a full spectrum of options to get their goods to consumers in the way that best suits their needs.”
The Port of LA, meanwhile, is hanging on the the No. 1 spot, having moved nearly 9.2 million TEUs through November.
While shifting market share is not uncommon, especially as East and Gulf coast ports also make investments to improve operations, Cordero and Port of LA Executive Director Gene Seroka have noted that the shift in cargo away from the twin ports became more dramatic amid unprecedented congestion brought on by the pandemic.
The backlog of ships outside the San Pedro Bay port complex has dissipated after two years but ongoing labor negotiations continue to cast a cloud of uncertainty over the ports. Negotiations between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association began in May and the old contract expired in July.
Work at the ports, however, has continued uninterrupted for now. Both executive directors have said they are confident an agreement will be reached without the need for a strike or slow down.
Despite the loss in market share, Cordero noted through November, the port had moved 8.6 million containers and that this year will be the port’s second busiest in its 111-year history, just behind last year when dockworkers handled nearly 9.4 million TEUs. Since 2012, cargo volumes have increased 50%, he added.
“I think it’s quite premature to write the obituary of West Coast ports,” Cordero said. “There will always be challenges but I am confident in our services and we are still the best and fastest commercial gateway from Asia to America.”
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union is negotiating with the Pacific Maritime Association.