• Cargo activity at America's seaports accounts for more than 23m jobs, over a quarter of the US economy, $1.1 trillion in total annual personal income and local consumption, and over $320bn in federal, state and local tax revenues.
  • US port association and border group leaders are urging investment in the country's port infrastructure in order to support trade.
The port of Los Angeles

The port of Los Angeles

US port association and border group leaders are calling for investment in the country's port infrastructure in order to support trade and facilitate the free flow of goods across borders and within the US.

Testifying at hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday (17 July), Senator John Cornyn, chair of the Senate Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs and Global Competitiveness, told the hearing: "Delays at our ports result in an overall loss of commerce...We must fund the ports that make trade possible in the first place."

Personnel, technology and infrastructure were the three major resources panellists at the hearing outlined.

At a time when the US government is focused on creating American jobs, propelling the economy and modernising infrastructure, the role played by the nation's freight transportation system is more critical than ever, Kurt Nagle, president and CEO of the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) told the hearing.

President Trump has called for US$1.5 trn to rebuild US infrastructure and Congress' budget agreement last year devoted $10bn on infrastructure in both FY 2018 and FY 2019.

"That is a good beginning and seaport infrastructure should be a high priority for these additional funds," Nagle said.

Cargo activity at America's seaports accounts for over 23m jobs, over a quarter of the US economy, $1.1 trillion in total annual personal income and local consumption, and over $320bn in federal, state and local tax revenues, according to the AAPA.

"With 95% of the world's population and 80% of global consumption located outside of the US, sustained investment in modern, well-maintained seaports and connecting infrastructure is vital to America's prosperity and global trade competitiveness," Nagle continued. "Building America's 21st century seaport infrastructure requires considerable federal investments. Both landside and waterside investments are critical to our nation's competitiveness including our ability to export US goods."

The AAPA said the seaport industry will need $66bn over the next ten years, including $33.8bn for waterside projects and $32.03bn in landside projects.

Also providing a testimony, Sergio Contreras, vice chairman of the Border Trade Alliance, emphasised the importance of "well-functioning ports of entry" to the nation's economic health. "Without the proper resources – personnel, technology, and infrastructure – our ports can be exploited by smugglers or others with motives that run counter to the rule of law," Contreras said.

The testimonies come during ongoing negotiations over the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and a debate over trade's impact generally.

According to the Border Trade Alliance, nearly 9m US jobs depend on trade with Canada, and 5m US jobs can be attributed to trade with Mexico.

"NAFTA has created a highly efficient, just-in-time manufacturing environment that has resulted in an enhanced quality of life throughout the region," Contreras said.

He used his remarks to argue that devoting more resources to ports of entry have both economic and security benefits. "The reason is simple," Contreras continued. "More resources devoted to inspecting and clearing legitimate freight and travellers means more resources for interdiction."

Contreras also raised concern that Customs and Border Protection – the lead government agency at ports of entry – continues to struggle in recruiting new personnel, though he acknowledged that the agency has made some progress of late in hiring. "Encouragingly, the trendlines on hiring appear headed in the right direction. But there's still plenty of room for improvement."

He encouraged Congress to consider legislation that would remove bureaucratic barriers to hiring while still maintaining high recruitment standards.