International Trade Swells at Florida’s Seaports; Trading at a Deficit with China

By: Jim Turner | Posted: May 30, 2012 3:55 AM
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Jaxport, Port of Miami tunnel construction project and Port of Panama City

Florida’s effort to increase international trade spawned an 18.3 percent growth in the value of traffic through its seaports last year, according to the Florida Ports Council.

The overall goods traveling through Florida’s ports in 2011 totaled $149 billion, of which more than half -- $82.7 billion -- were exports. The majority of the trade was going to or coming from South America (37.4 percent), Asia and the Middle East (18.8 percent), Europe (15.7 percent), Central America (12.7 percent) and the Caribbean (9.5 percent), the council reported in its annual five-year outlook released on Friday.

"We're just thrilled we're talking growth in the industry, considering the global economic downturn," said Doug Wheeler, Ports Council president.

But he later added, "There are still a lot of empty containers leaving Florida ports. We can still do a lot better at getting these containers filled up leaving Florida's ports than we're doing now."

Getting more Florida exports would require expanding Florida's manufacturing base, as well as completing a number of prioritized projects -- such as the Port Miami tunnel -- to shorten the time cargo can move from shipping lanes to railroad tracks and interstate highways.

See port by port import-exports totals here.

Still, the overall totals were the most since 2008, which continue to outpace the trade shipped via air -- $63.8 billion in value in 2011.

The hook for bulking up the state's ports in advance of the anticipated growth in trade has been the Panama Canal expansion, to be completed in 2015. However, a big reason for the recent growth has been the rise in free-trade agreements with Central and South American countries, some of which have been natural maritime trading partners with Florida. 

See Florida's top trading partners here.

The report notes that since the U.S. signed such a pact with Chile in 2004, Florida’s annual trade with the South American country has grown from $1.8 billion to $6.9 billion.

Similarly, trade with Peru has grown from $1 billion in 2007, when a free-trade agreement was signed, to $3.2 billion last year.

However, while the state continues to pump more goods to its trading partners to the south, the state still trades at a deficit with Asian nations, part of the reason Enterprise Florida is working on plans for a business development mission to Japan, Korea or other Asian nations in 2013.

For every $8 worth of imports from China, the state returns $1 in goods sold to the Asian nation.

The West Coast of the United States has been the beneficiary of trade with China, but that is something that could change with the canal expansion.

"The Panama Canal is at least changing the dynamics of that conversation," Wheeler said. 

"We by no means have touted the Panama Canal as the Meccas of all trade routes and this will be the end-all for Florida ports," Wheeler added. "But certainly there will be new opportunities as shippers and freighters go 'Huh, there is a cost savings in going through the canal, coming out on the East Coast and throwing the cargo onto a truck or a train for a shorter haul to the heart of the country.'"

The report does highlight efforts by the council to combat competition from ports in Georgia, South Carolina and Virginia as more foreign markets open and expand.

“Opportunities missed will be opportunities lost to Florida’s competitors,” the report states.

See nation's top ports list here.

To meet the expected increase in trade, the 15 individual seaports in Florida -- both cruise and cargo -- have projected $2.7 billion in capital improvement needs over the next five years.  

Channel and harbor deepening, along with new and rehabbed cargo terminals, are among the primary needs. The majority of the work is projected at Port Miami, Port Everglades and JaxPort.

See priority projects here.

The Florida Ports Council forecasts the projects would create 12,000 construction jobs and 13,000 full-time jobs.

To help fund a few of the projects, legislators in the 2012 regular session increased the nondesignated port funding from $117 million in the current year to $135 million for the next fiscal year, and created a $35 million port investment initiative.

See the Sunshine State News series "The Ports of Florida" here.

Reach Jim Turner at or at (772) 215-9889.

Comments (1)

9:23AM MAY 30TH 2012
Great article on international trade. Florida continues to sacrifice thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions in trade because of the idiotic trade and travel embargo against Cuba. What is the reason for this stupidity? Is it because a Mafia vendetta is still in place from 1959? Or is it because our state and federal governments kow-tow to a handful of extremists in Miami? Open the doors to trade and travel to Cuba and Florida's ports and travel agencies will get a boost! Tell the pro-embargo politicians that their anti-Cuba crusade is hurting Florida's economy and violating the rights of US citizens and companies.

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