Thursday, January 10, 2008

Value Of Bay Area Exports On The Rise

Value Of Bay Area Exports On The Rise
East Bay Business Times - by David Goll
January 4, 2008

Stephanie Secrest | East Bay Business Times
The value of exports at the Port of Oakland rose more than 23 percent in the third quarter.

View Larger Though the huge volume of imported products from Asia flooding into West Coast ports seems to get the most attention in the world of trade these days, exports are quietly gaining ground in the Bay Area.

The value of exports leaving all Bay Area seaports, including Oakland, increased by more than 31 percent during the third quarter of 2007, as compared to the same period a year before, according to the Bay Area World Trade Center, a trade advocacy organization based in Oakland.

The World Trade Center said the nation's considerable trade deficit decreased by 8.6 percent during the July-through-September period.

"With fears of our nation heading into a recession, our ability to stay competitive in exporting plays a larger role in the local economy," Elihu Harris, World Trade Center chairman and former Oakland mayor, said in a statement. "The falling dollar means that our products become more affordable abroad."

According to the World Trade Center, the Port of San Francisco saw the biggest increase in export value during the third quarter, increasing by 56 percent over the same period a year before. Oakland and San Francisco are among eight seaports in the region, with others located in Alameda, Richmond, Martinez, Pittsburg, Redwood City and Stockton.

The Port of Oakland saw the value of exports it handled increase more than 23 percent during the third quarter of 2007, compared to the same period a year before, according to Elizabeth Vivirito, a World Trade Center spokeswoman. She added, however, the East Bay port handled a far higher volume of exports than San Francisco, with the overall value at about $2.7 billion as compared to about $359 million in San Francisco during last year's third quarter.

For the first three quarters of 2007, the volume of loaded export containers increased 7.4 percent as compared to the first nine months of 2006, according to Marilyn Sandifur, spokeswoman for the Port of Oakland, the nation's fourth-busiest container port. The volume of imported products coming into the East Bay declined slightly during the same period, she said.

The increased export volume at the Port of Oakland translates into approximately 500,000 tons of agricultural products from California and points east passing through the East Bay, according to port officials.

Sandifur said the phrase "loaded containers" means containers are either completely or partially filled with cargo. Oakland is the preferred port of the state's agricultural community because of its proximity to Central Valley farming areas and various wine regions, so it exports the majority of the state's food and wine products to Asia and other markets.

California is the nation's top agricultural state, producing $31.7 billion in gross cash receipts from agricultural products during 2005, according to the state Department of Food and Agriculture.

However, the percent of exports at Oakland has dropped from its historically high level in recent years. Sandifur said exports constituted about 60 percent of port activity during the early part of the decade, but they are only about half today. In 2006, imports outpaced exports for the first time in the port's eight decades of operation, constituting 51 percent of port activity.

"Even though we are seeing significant increases on the export side, and Oakland is a premier export port, the situation has changed," Sandifur said.

Even with those changes, Oakland still maintains a much higher percentage of exports vs. imports than such West Coast rivals as the combined ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the nation's busiest and the major destination for Asian-manufactured consumer goods.

Besides farm products, Bay Area ports also export such products as electrical and industrial machinery, as well as medical instruments. It leads the nation in those categories, according to the World Trade Center.

Because of its high profile as an East Bay economic engine, producing 55,000 jobs and $7 billion worth of economic activity annually, officials of the Port of Oakland have embarked on an ambitious program of assessing its needs and planning for its growth. Increasing competition from other ports up and down the West Coast, including in Canada and Mexico, and eventually in other parts of the United States because of the expansion of the Panama Canal, make those efforts imperative, according to Omar Benjamin, the port's executive director.

Benjamin and other port officials have produced a document called the Framework for Strategic Alignment with the Future to outline what they feel are the biggest issues facing the port, including a rapidly changing global business climate, financial constraints, customer and industry demands, government regulation and community expectations, especially on environmental issues.

"We have $4 billion worth of development projects, but only $2 billion available," Benjamin previously told the Business Times, referring to needed improvements.

Those include upgrading existing rail lines, including building a new intermodal rail facility on the former site of the Oakland Army Base.

Sandifur said the port hopes to tap into funds approved by state voters in 2006 for nearly $20 billion worth of infrastructure improvements to help pay for some of the needed expansion and improvements.

Port of Oakland
Business: Operates maritime, aviation and real estate divisions
Headquarters: Oakland
Founded: 1927
Executive director: Omar Benjamin
Employees: 600
2006 operating revenue (maritime): $123 million
Address: 530 Water St., Oakland 94607
Phone: 510-627-1100
Web: | 925-598-1436

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