US Ports Brace for Possible Impact from China Trade War

The U.S. ports and shipping sector are bracing for potential impacts from the ongoing trade dispute with China that some economists warn could lead to layoffs and a drops in container traffic.

"What this has done in the immediate term is raise the level of nervousness within the container shipping industry," said Simon Heaney, senior manager of container research for Drewry, a U.K. maritime consulting company. "The burden will across a number of sectors, not just in container shipping."

The impact could be felt especially hard in agriculture-related cargo since it is worth billions of dollars annually to major West Coast ports and is also significant to the East Coast and Gulf Coast seaports.

Barge operators that haul bulk targeted by China and railroads could be affected, too.

China slapped a 25 percent tariff on American pork along with a new 15 percent duty on other kinds of agricultural products, including fresh fruit, almonds, dried fruit and wine. China has also threatened new duties for soybeans, cotton, wheat, corn, sorghum and beef.

On Monday, President Donald Trump sought to downplay the talk of a trade war with China and calm fears in the agricultural sector.

"If during the course of negotiation they want to hit the farmers because they think that hits me, I wouldn't say that's nice," the president said in remarks at the White House. "But I will tell you, our farmers are great patriots. These are great patriots and understand that they're doing this for the country, and we'll make it up to them."

Overall, U.S. agricultural exports to China represent almost $20 billion annually for American farmers.

Last week, the Chinese announced retaliatory tariffs of up to 25 percent on 106 American goods, including soybeans. It came on the heels of the Trump administration proposing duties on more than 1,300 imported products in China's machinery, electronics, aerospace and robotics sectors.

Trump also suggested last week an additional $100 billion in tariffs on China could come on top of what already was announced.

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