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Thursday, September 21, 2023
Sept. 21, 2023

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In Our View: Port of Vancouver helps keep economy afloat

The Columbian

Despite economic difficulties created by the coronavirus pandemic and despite global supply chain issues, the Port of Vancouver USA is on solid ground, so to speak.

The port reported revenue of $50 million in 2020 — the highest in its 108-year history and an increase of 15 percent over the previous year. Last year, its net revenue was $48 million, with 7.1 million metric tons of cargo and 62,500 rail cars passing through.

Those numbers demonstrate that our local port has done an effective job of carving out a niche for itself. Unlike larger ports along the West Coast — Seattle, Tacoma and Portland, for example — Vancouver’s port is not a conduit for standard shipping containers. It is a bulk port that specializes in products that don’t fit into such containers, the kind that are quickly moved between trains and ships.

That makes Vancouver the ideal landing spot for wind turbine blades, the kind that frequently can been seen on trucks traveling Highway 14 while making their way to wind farms in Eastern Washington or Eastern Oregon or beyond.

As one Port of Vancouver official said this year: “Having a really diverse cargo mix really, quite frankly, saved our rear ends.”

While the Ocean Shipping Reform Act, recently signed by President Joe Biden, will not have a direct impact on the Port of Vancouver, it will have an impact that is felt throughout Washington.

Hailed as the first significant maritime legislation in 20 years, the bill gives the Federal Maritime Commission increased oversight of late fees and storage fees charged by ocean carriers and terminals, which are paid by importers and exporters. Those charges typically are passed along to consumers, contributing to inflation.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. and co-chair of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said: “Right now, the supply chain isn’t working. Our ports have been clogged, shipping companies have struggled to keep up with demand, and the costs of American exporters — who are trying to get hay, milk and apples to the global market — have gone through the roof.”

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, which led to people shopping from home and an increase in the demand for imports — particularly goods from Asia — U.S. ports have experienced a backlog. Ships have been languishing at sea waiting to offload their goods, and many have been returning to Asia empty rather than waiting to be refilled. A CNBC investigation found that the ships declining the most U.S. exports are owned by the Chinese government.

All of that has been a key factor in supply chain issues that have been in the news for more than a year, and it has been a key factor in rapid inflation. Demand for products has grown more quickly than supply, causing prices to rise.

That impacts Washington more than perhaps any other state. Regarded as the most trade-dependent state in the country, we are uniquely affected by trade policies and practices.

As Port of Vancouver officials explain, the new legislation will not affect our local port, primarily because it is not a container-shipping port.

“We feel our current practices will meet or exceed the new regulations developed by the Federal Marine Commission, and we will adapt to any unforeseen regulations appropriately,” Director of Communication Therese Lang told The Columbian.

All of which leaves the port to do what it does best — contribute mightily to the local economy.