Supply chain and logistics experts who gathered Wednesday, March 30, for the Port of Long Beach’s annual “Pulse of the Ports: Peak Season Forecast” said international trade will continue to grow in 2011, while structural changes will transform the industry over the long run. “The recovery happened a little faster than we thought,” said Dan Smith, a principal at consulting firm The Tioga Group and one of the panelists at the event, which attracted nearly 500 guests to the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Long Beach.
Smith and the other panelists predicted that trade will grow more modestly this year compared to the double-digit gains in 2010. While trade and the economy grows, the industry overall is undergoing profound changes that will transform the way goods are transported globally, they said.
Container ships are getting bigger, while rising fuel costs are forcing vessel operators to “slow steam” to conserve fuel. Railroad companies are modernizing their facilities to meet demand and compete more efficiently, while trucking companies are cleaning up their fleets to meet environmental standards.
The expansion of the Panama Canal, scheduled to be completed by 2014, will be a game changer, but the change will happen gradually, said Smith. “They are not building for trade volumes in 2014,” he said. “They are building for trade volumes in 2030.” Those who will fare well are those who are planning for the future, Smith said.
“Things seem to be on a pretty steady upward track for 2011, but we never want to get too comfortable,” said Richard Steinke, Port of Long Beach executive director. “It always pays to scan the horizon ahead, to build on strengths and identify challenges.”