As tariffs fall, cargo rises THE PORT

January 01, 1995|By Suzanne Wooton | Suzanne Wooton,Sun Staff Writer

The Port of Baltimore enters the year hoping to continue its steady growth in cargo by capitalizing on last year's agreements liberalizing world trade.

Both the North American Free Trade Agreement and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade accord are expected to increase trade in Baltimore and elsewhere by significantly reducing or eliminating tariffs.

"We're anticipating a positive impact at the port of Baltimore," said Michael P. Angelos, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, which oversees the state's five public marine terminals. "Lower tariffs should stimulate trading in and out of the port."

In addition, the continuing economic recovery in Europe, one of Baltimore's major trading partners, should assure the continued growth, he said.

Already, the emergence of new trade routes and an improving world economy have produced a significant expansion of service at the Port of Baltimore.

Steamship lines have begun new service to South America, and one new line is now offering direct service to the Far East, the fastest growing area of the world.

The result: a whopping 16 percent increase in cargo in 1994, bringing the total handled at public terminals to more than 6 million tons.

That has meant more work for longshoremen who load and unload ships and more business for hundreds of other port-related jobs, such as freight forwarders, tugboat operators and chandlers.

In 1995, longshoreman man-hours -- one economic barometer for the port -- are expected to increase for the third consecutive year after declining for more than a decade.

While last year's growth in cargo will be difficult to exceed, port officials predict it will grow by another 500,000 to 1 million tons -- 5 percent to 10 percent -- this year.

"It's challenging when you compare that to 16 percent growth," Mr. Angelos said. "But we're hoping for a 5 to 10 percent growth."

"That's assuming that we keep everything we have today," he said. "Steamship services are always evaluating vessel rotations, and that's something we don't control."

Indeed, fortunes of ports -- and the thousands of people they employ -- hinge on business decisions made by steamship lines.

On the East Coast, Baltimore is merely one of several ports competing furiously for cargo.

But port, labor and business leaders say Baltimore's improved labor climate and its more efficient terminals have made it an attractive place for steamship lines to begin or expand service.

The port, for the first time, will provide a refrigerated storage facility for break bulk cargo. Currently, the port can handle only refrigerated cargo that arrives in containers.

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