The United States has the largest economy in the world, partly because it imports more products than any other country. It also happens to account for over 26% of the world’s total consumption. That makes it no surprise that it is home to some of the largest ports in the world. This ability to import and export so much is because of the network of 360 shipping ports in the country. Not all of these ports are created equal. The top 5 busiest US ports are responsible for a large portion of the country’s imports and exports.
The Top 5 Busiest Ports in the US
The busiest ports in the US are determined by the volume of container shipments which is measured in twenty-foot equivalent units or TEUs.
Port of Los Angeles
The Port of Los Angeles, also called America’s Port, is the busiest port in the US and the biggest in the Western Hemisphere. In 2018, it moved more than 9.46 million TEUs, which is an impressive number even globally. Plus, it was the third consecutive year it broke its general cargo record. The port takes up more than 43 miles and 8,000 acres along the California coast, making it one of the largest US ports based on sheer size. It is estimated that around $1.2 billion of cargo is shipping to or from the Port of Los Angeles each day.
Its location has made it a leading international trade gateway. It is key to trade between the US and many Asian countries like China, Japan, and South Korea. The size and efficiency of the port have allowed it to be one of the busiest ports in the US for the last twenty years.
The 2021 port statistics for Los Angeles suggest this year will see a steady flow of imports to this port. In January, it saw a 3.6% increase in traffic compared to one year prior. That made the sixth month in a row with year-over-year increases due to consumer spending driving the demand for goods.
Port of Long Beach
The Port of Long Beach is known as Los Angeles’s sister port because of its proximity. In addition, it is the second-largest US port and is within the world’s top 20. It sees traffic of around 8.09 million TEU every year. The port has also stated that it is on a mission to be the most environmentally-friendly port in the country. In fact, recent measures taken by the port have resulted in an 87% reduction in diesel emissions.
Similar to the Port of Los Angeles, the Port of Long Beach is vital to trans-Pacific trade with many of the fastest-growing economies in Asia. It also has the distinction of being one of the few US ports that can accommodate the biggest vessels in the world.
This port ended 2020 strong, breaking a number of its own records. It was able to recoup the declines it saw at the beginning of the year and even had its busiest month in its history in December 2020. It also ended the year with its most active quarter and had recorded a record container volume for the entire year. It was able to exceed its annual record that it had set in 2018 by 22,292 TEUs, largely driven by the over 6% increase in imports. It is expected that the 2021 port statistics will be even more impressive.
Interestingly, even though the Port of Los Angeles and Port of Long Beach are the two busiest ports in the US, they still don’t compare to Chinese ports. Together, they are responsible for over a quarter of the total container trade in the US, but they would only be the ninth-biggest port in the world.
Port of New York and New Jersey
This port is the third busiest US port and the biggest on the East Coast. It is a key gateway for one of the most concentrated markets in North America. It saw traffic of 7.2 million TEU in 2018. Some of the commodities found at this port are petroleum, scrap metal, bulk, and break bulk cargo.
In 2019, the Port Authority released a 30-year plan with the goal of increasing the ability to handle the world’s largest ships. This came following a dramatic surge in TEU volumes the port had seen. The overall goal of the plan is to solidify the region as the second-biggest trading hub in the country.
Port of Savannah
The port in Savannah, Georgia houses the largest single-terminal container facility in the Western Hemisphere. It also has two deep-water terminals and in May 2019, it was announced that they plan to build a $220 million rail facility. This rail facility will further facilitate the demand at the port and quickly improve the supply chain efficiency. This was only a part of the Port’s overall $3 billion investment to increase its traffic to 8 million TEU by 2028. It is estimated that it currently receives over 4.3 million TEUs every year.
Port of Seattle-Tacoma NW Seaport Alliance
The Northwest Seaport Alliance operates the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, which merged in 2015. It is the fifth busiest port in the US and sees traffic of just under 3.5 million TEU each year. These ports are the fourth largest gateway to Asia. They are also major distribution points in the Midwest, Ohio Valley, and East Coast. In March of 2019, the Tacoma port received four super-Panamax cranes. Meanwhile, the Port of Seattle began a $500 million program to modernize and improve its cargo handling operations.
The 2021 port statistics for the NW Seaport Alliance saw a 9.3% increase in January 2021 compared to January 2020. Full imports during that month increased just under 11%, though full exports decreased 13.4%.
These ports are essential parts of the US and world economy. They are responsible for delivering vital goods and services to consumers in the US and all over the world. They are also one of the biggest employers in the country, accounting for nearly 31 million jobs in 2018. Finally, the cargo activities themselves at US ports account for over 25% of the US economy.