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Cargo volumes drop, port monitors larger trade picture

The chief executive at the Port of Virginia stated in a Wednesday press release that the negative effects of the coronavirus will be felt at the port through the spring, and that both the virus and the residual impact of the trade tariffs were the main drivers behind a 9-percent drop in February cargo volumes.

“We are actively watching the situation (and) are in constant contact with the ocean carriers and cargo owners to get a better understanding of what they think the recovery is going to look like,” John Reinhart, the chief executive officer and executive director of the Virginia Port Authority, stated in the Wednesday press release. “The industry is facing some significant challenges and while this situation is temporary, it is having a measurable, negative impact on our business, and we are responding accordingly.”

February’s overall cargo volumes were down nearly 9 percent when compared with February 2019, which is a difference of 20,336 twenty-foot equivalent units of cargo.

According to the press release, this lost volume is being felt across several different categories. These categories include total cargo and breakbulk tonnage, rail and truck volume, Virginia Inland Port volume and import vehicles. Loaded imports were down 7.4 percent, and empty export and import containers that are needed for cargo loading are down 36.6 percent and 29 percent, respectively.

However, volume at Richmond Marine Terminal and loaded exports grew in February. When compared with the previous February, volume at RMT was up more than 58 percent, and overall loaded export volume grew 5.5 percent.

“RMT’s volumes are being driven by agricultural exports, like soybeans, which have been coming back following the agreement on trade tariffs,” Reinhart stated.

According to Reinhart, the port is focusing on being prepared for recovery, which includes an examination of systems to ensure maximum efficiency, and having all equipment maintenance up-to-date.

“We’re using this time to check-in on our customers and remind them of how our assets and capabilities can help fuel their growth,” he stated. “We are glad to be able to serve as the global gateway to our partners as their business begins to return.”

As a result of the spread of the coronavirus within the U.S., the port is also planning for any eventuality, and has an internal working group that’s dedicated to “developing contingency plans for continuance of operations, internal and external communications plans and colleague well-being,” the press release states.

“This is a very challenging trade environment and we must be ready for any scenario,” Reinhart stated. “The recovery will come, but is going to take a measure of patience before we get there.”

As China continues to gain control over the spread of the virus there, more factories are reopening and ocean carriers are working to return to their normal sailing schedules, according to the press release.

“This, industry experts say, is the beginning of a recovery that will result in heavy cargo flows to the United States probably starting in late April,” the press release states.

“When the recovery starts, The Port of Virginia and its team will be ready,” Reinhart stated.