Ga. ports chief warns Chinese tariffs could cost state millions

A river pilot craft guides the OOCL Malaysia freighter to a bearth at the Port of Savannah on March 26, 2018. J. Scott Trubey/
A river pilot craft guides the OOCL Malaysia freighter to a bearth at the Port of Savannah on March 26, 2018. J. Scott Trubey/

The head of the Georgia Ports Authority is warning that the Trump administration’s latest round of proposed Chinese tariffs could take a nearly $18 million bite out of the state’s booming ports.

The White House is currently mulling whether to add ship-to-shore cranes to its fourth batch of Chinese tariffs. The state’s Ports Authority has already ordered six such cranes, costing some $70 million.

Executive Director Griff Lynch said instituting a 25 percent tariff could have a “substantially negative impact” on work to expand the Savannah harbor, the state’s top economic development project.

"It would also hinder our plans for additional future purchases of these large, purpose-built cranes required for our expanding operations," he wrote in a recent letter to U.S. Trade Rep. Robert Lighthizer. "There is no domestic source for these cranes and, indeed, there is no manufacturing facility for these cranes except in China."

Lynch's letter, which also included a plea for Lighthizer to exempt port yard equipment from any future tariff discussions, was quickly followed up by Georgia U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Johnny Isakson.

The Republicans said Friday that removing the prospect of tariffs on ship-to-shore cranes “would allow our ports to continue with important infrastructure upgrades and will prevent major disruptions to trade in the southeastern United States.”

“We hope you and your staff will consider the importance of fairness and predictability, so that American businesses can continue to create jobs and increase economic prosperity,” they told Lighthizer.

The push from Lynch and Georgia's senators comes three months after the Trump administration proposed setting aside a record $130.3 million for dredging work at the Savannah harbor.

The nearly $1 billion project to deepen the Savannah harbor bed from 42 feet to 47 feet is now more than halfway complete. Proponents say it will deliver $282 million in annual transportation savings to the country once it’s finished in 2022.

Georgia isn't the only port state that's asking for relief from proposed tariffs. South Carolina recently raised similar warnings about levying duties on cranes – the state's ports authority said a 25 percent tariff could cost them some $36 million, according to The Charleston Post and Courier.

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