Georgia ports traffic down, but exports up in January

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

Credit: Stephen B. Morton

Some softening in trade expected after brisk 2022 and amid fears of global economic slowdown

The Georgia Ports Authority said Wednesday it saw overall traffic drop in January compared to the same month a year earlier as fewer goods from other countries passed through the Savannah harbor.

Total traffic declined 11.5% last month compared to January 2022, the authority said, citing “reduced orders in retail and manufacturing” for goods made overseas.

The authority said 421,712 TEUs or 20-foot equivalent units, passed through Savannah last month. Though that figure was down compared to the same month a year ago, it was better than pre-pandemic January 2020.

Weather was also cited as a factor, with six vessels that had been expected to arrive in January delayed until this month.

Despite the downturn in overall traffic, the appetite for American-made and -grown goods remained strong last month, with exports growing 21%.

“We’re excited to support a strong month for American farms and factories at the Port of Savannah,” Griff Lynch, executive director of the Georgia Ports Authority, said in a news release. “We achieved particularly robust growth last month in export trade lanes to Europe and the Mediterranean.”

Trade in heavy machinery and automotive products through the Brunswick port grew 9% in January compared to the same month a year ago.

Global trade and Georgia’s seaports are vital cogs in the state’s economy.

Global trade last year topped $196 billion, an increase of 18% compared to 2021, setting a record for a second straight year. The bulk of Georgia’s international trade came via imports. But Georgia products sold overseas totaled $47 billion, an 11% increase from 2021, the state said Tuesday.

ExploreGeorgia sets international trade record for second straight year

The Georgia Ports Authority said a record of nearly 6 million TEUs passed through the Savannah port in 2022, up 5% from a year earlier.

Some cooling has been expected amid heightened fears of recession and stubborn inflation.

Ports authority Chairman Joel Wooten said the agency will focus amid the shipping slowdown on infrastructure projects that have been in the works in anticipation of future growth.

“Being prepared to take advantage of opportunities as they arise requires steady leadership and an eye toward long-term trends,” Wooten said in the release.

Earlier this month, four of eight giant cranes arrived as part of an expansion of the Garden City Terminal. Upgrades to Berth 1 at Garden City are about 80% complete, the ports said, and should open in July, offering capacity to handle up to four large ships at once, in addition to three other freighters. A 90-acre expansion of the Garden City Terminal West is expected to come online in phases through 2024.

In December, the authority approved plans to renovate docks at its Ocean Terminal in Savannah to handle more container traffic, creating flexibility to grow over the next eight to 10 years. Coupled with that, the authority is shifting “breakbulk cargo,” such as heavy machinery and certain automotive products to the Brunswick port as part of a $247 million terminal expansion.

This week, the Georgia Ports Authority and the Army Corps of Engineers signed an agreement to launch design of a planned expansion of the shipping channel in the Brunswick harbor. The design and dredging are expected to cost $17.3 million, with the ports covering a third of the channel work and the Army Corps covering the rest.