Georgia Ports trade fell 9.7% in May, June looks similar

With the impact of the coronavirus still roiling global trade, May was a bad month at the ports of Georgia, although U.S. exports picked up some of the slack, officials said Monday.

And the downturn in overall shipping volume could be similar in June, they added.

The number of containers handled by the ports of Savannah and Brunswick was down 9.7% last month compared with May 2019, said Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority.

With some trade in decline and some overseas production down, more than one of every five ship sailings originally scheduled for Georgia was canceled. However, companies that were shipping goods were packing containers on the ships that did sail.

And exports from the United States – especially agricultural goods – were strong.

“Imports were down about 15%,” Lynch said. “Exports were down about 3%. So exports carried the day.”

Besides agriculture, the strongest trade involved e-commerce, home repair and home improvement.

Roughly 18% of the ship sailings scheduled for this month have been canceled, setting the ports up for a decline similar to May’s, Lynch said. “Our guess is that June will be down 8 to 10%.”

After the outbreak of the virus, China's production fell dramatically, accounting for the first shortfalls at the ports. Last year, the state imported about $19.8 billion in goods from China, according to the Georgia Department of Economic Development. Among the goods most frequently imported from China are toys, furniture and floor coverings.

In late March, officials publicly hoped that the impact would be minimal by May, but it hasn't worked out that way.

Georgia Ports saw a 7.3% drop in shipments during April.

While the ports directly employ a few thousand workers, the trade accounts for hundreds of thousands of jobs across the state in warehouses, trucking and distribution.

Just a few of the ports’ employees have been affected by the virus, officials said Monday.

Crew members of arriving ships typically do not disembark. Moreover, they have been effectively isolated during weeks of the journey, Lynch said. “So if there were a problem, we’d know about it.”