Ports rebound, but expect pandemic damage to continue through year

Georgia ports are a key part of the state's economy, supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Credit: Georgia Ports Authority

Credit: Georgia Ports Authority

It’s better than it was a couple of months ago, but Georgia’s ports likely will not see trade return to pre-pandemic levels in the coming year, officials say.

A recent surge in shipments is helping trade rebound, but the new fiscal year that began in July is expected to reflect the impact of a global pandemic and economic turmoil on trade, said Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority.

“Our projection is that we will probably take a step back, something in the 8% to 12% range,” he said in an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Because of a robust few months before the pandemic, the Georgia ports, a major component in the state’s $620 billion-a-year economy, finished the last fiscal year with slightly more tonnage moved than the previous year.

By the end of the fiscal year, shipments totaling 37.77 million tons had passed through Savannah and Brunswick, a 0.6% increase from the previous fiscal year.

Moreover, the declines after February were not as sharp as had been feared in late winter as the pandemic took hold. Predictions had been that trade could plummet by 30% or more. But Georgia’s ports took some business from smaller gateways, and Georgia is not as dependent on China as some, Lynch said.

“It still wasn’t pretty,” he said.

Trade dropped 11.7% in March, compared to last year, and fell 4.9% in April, 10.3% in May and 4.0% in June.

However, a rebound is coming, Lynch said. It can take weeks for cargo vessels to reach Georgia from the nations exporting products, especially from Asia. So, port officials keep tabs on shipments from around the world – what’s “on the water” – to project business.

“It is not a perfect science, but it looks like the next four weeks are going to bring us shipments that are 13% higher than the same period last year,” Lynch said.

Those imports seem to be driven by the high demand for e-commerce deliveries, a boost in purchase of home repair products and the need for “big box” retailers to restock after the spring, he said.

But a few great weeks is not a sign of the global economy returning to normal, Lynch said.

Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, says there's a healthy flotilla of ships headed for Georgia now, but he still doesn't think trade will recover to 2019 levels.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Through December, trade through the ports had been up 5.5% from the previous year.

U.S. officials said this week that the nation’s trade deficit – the difference between imports and exports – fell 6.1% in June, with imports lagging. The level of overall trade in June was still well below levels of a year ago, officials said.

Tonnage through Georgia Ports

Change from previous year

July: up 3.5%

August: up 12.0%

September: up 1.7%

October: up 1.5%

November: up 7.8%

December: up 6.7%

January: down 6.0%

February: 18.4%

March: down 11.7%

April: down 4.9%

May: down 10.3%

June: down 4.0%

Annual total: 0.6%

Source: Georgia Ports Authority

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