Putting the ‘port' in export
STOCKTON - Just last week, the cargo ship Amanda departed Stockton carrying a load of bulk sulfur to Brazil, and the Darya Brahma sailed into port to receive iron ore destined for China.
Those vessels and their cargoes reflect a new trend at the city's port.
While overall cargo volume grew nearly 40 percent over the past 12 months to 2.1 million metric tons, the gains were due in large part to increasing exports of commodities such as sulfur, rice and iron ore, the latter a cargo new to the port this year, officials said.
In fact, with 11 shipments this fiscal year totaling more than 300,000 metric tons, iron ore is Stockton's No. 2 cargo by volume, behind only imported liquid fertilizers at 360,000 tons.
While imports have long dominated maritime activity in Stockton, Port Director Richard Aschieris said that if current trends continue, export tonnages could someday take the lead. That would be unusual among West Coast ports, which generally see cargoes split 70 percent imports to 30 percent exports.
"We see a real opportunities there," Aschieris said, suggesting possible future customers. "It could be there are other accounts that export iron ore. It could be other bulk and mined products."
Stockton is not alone in seeing export trade growth.
Beacon Economics, analyzing U.S. Commerce Department trade data, recently reported that California exporters tallied shipments of $12.9 billion in April, a gain of 14.4 percent over the same month last year.
The state's manufactured exports rose by 10.7 percent, while non-manufactured exports - chiefly raw materials and agricultural products - were up by 21.3 percent.
"California's export trade in April nearly equaled the pre-recession high for that month, achieved back in 2007," said Jock O'Connell, Beacon Economics' international trade adviser.
There are a couple of factors behind export growth, the Sacramento-based O'Connell said.
One is the rapid growth of emerging economies, such as China, Brazil, Indonesia and India.
"They're consuming a lot of raw materials," O'Connell said. And, he noted, "Stockton is principally a source of agricultural and raw materials."
Also, "The dollar is cheap, and that means, relatively speaking, U.S. goods are a deal on global markets."
World market growth is expected to continue, although China's government is trying to throttle down the nation's economy in order to dampen inflation.
"What we're going to see looking forward is certainly demand growing for U.S. goods in general, but perhaps not at as robust a pace as we've seen in the last couple of years," O'Connell said.
Small, bulk-cargo ports such as Stockton can see rapid changes in cargo volumes and mixes.
Just five years ago, the port recorded a record 2.1 million metric tons of cement imports. Then, as the construction industry began to collapse, the next year, 2007, saw that fall by nearly half to just 1.2 million metric tons.
Most recently, in the 12 months ending June 30, the port expects cement imports of 237,000 metric tons.
"Ports like Stockton have to be opportunistic and seize whatever opportunities come along," O'Connell suggested.
That's just what port officials have in mind, Aschieris said.
He sees a great potential for handing more raw materials, such as iron ore, coal or other mined materials. Planners look for improving the port's infrastructure, particularly additional rail, to improve its capacity to handle such commodities.
And the focus is on export growth.
"We see it as something that is important for us to pursue and do as well as we can," Aschieris said. "We would love to be a net export port."
Contact reporter Reed Fujii at (209) 546-8253 email@example.com