Recently, Asia Cargo News met with Mario Cordero, executive director of California’s Port of Long Beach. Cordero joined the port in May 2017.
Asia Cargo News: With volumes up this peak season and bigger ships being deployed, are there any issues at Port of Long Beach terminals such as congestion?
Mario Cordero: A year ago, the port was addressing Hanjin’s bankruptcy and many wondered what its impact would be on TTI Long Beach Terminal, Pier T [where Hanjin had a majority stake]. Less than a year later, TTI is one of our most productive terminals. Pier T has been able to tweak some of their growing pains and is moving ahead as we expected. We expect it to be one of our premier terminals. Last, I would say, the primary ownership there is MSC, and for us, we are in a good position to serve the alliance structure.
ACN: Are there any particular measures being implemented at Pier T to address higher-value cargo?
Cordero: Recently, the Port Commission set a goal that 50% of the cargo should move on-dock. Maximizing the on-dock capabilities of that terminal is one of the dynamics we have seen. This requires a partnership not only with TTI, but with the carrier and the railroad. We have seen continued efforts to maximize efficiencies by emphasizing on-dock capabilities.
ACN: You inherited the ongoing US$4 billion capital improvements programme, but as the new executive director, what new initiatives are you introducing?
Cordero: Yes, I am very blessed to join a port that is already a leader in terms of service and infrastructure improvements. I think I add a ‘big picture vision’ resulting from my six years in Washington, four of which were spent serving as chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission (FMC). My vision, and the vision of this commission, is to become the Green Port of the Future, by maximizing the level of operations to make sure we have marine terminal excellence, good relationships with carriers, and supply chain optimization. Today, port authorities worldwide are looking at how to enhance the supply chain. I want to decipher the main issues and see what we need to do to go beyond the terminal to create efficiencies out of the gate. It’s great to have efficiencies to load and unload the cargo at the vessels and in the marine terminal operation, but what is the next step? This is where we can all roll up our sleeves and make the Port of Long Beach a leader in the Green Port concept.
ACN: More and more terminals have appointment systems. Do you see a time where every terminal will have an appointment system whereby such systems are taken further towards digitalization where all operate from a common portal?
Cordero: That relates to my comments regarding the supply chain, which I see at being of utmost importance. Today we have nine terminals that have appointment systems. In my conversations with stakeholders and the major carriers of the world, there’s a consensus that we need a uniform appointment system. The sooner we get there, the better.
ACN: How did your recent business development trip to Asia go?
Cordero: I went to Hong Kong and Taiwan, and also to the US East Coast, where I visited the home offices of major steamship companies. I found that the carriers have a better sense of optimism versus these last few years that began with the recession of 2008 when they were preoccupied with the ongoing issue of unsustainable rates. The good news is the carriers see the light at the end of the tunnel. There’s a consensus that the combination of the alliance structure, which began with a dialogue of economies of scale, will soon result in the sustainable rates that they have been trying to achieve.
ACN: What about cargo volumes? Is President Trump having an impact?
Cordero: International cargo overall continues to improve. Dialogue during our presidential election last year caused many around the world to wonder if the United States was going to move toward protectionist policies and become isolationists in terms of international trade. Today, we see that as a political debate and international trade with the United States is continuing to thrive. To emphasize this point, in April 2017, the Port of Long Beach realized a 16% increase in cargo over April 2016. In May 2017, the port had the highest cargo movement ever recorded for May. In June 2017, we had the second-highest June in the port’s history. In July 2017, again we had the second highest July in the port’s history. And in August, we saw an 8% increase in volume. These figures confirm the sense of optimism. If you look at the data, the data is there. This was confirmed by the carriers with whom we met, and they also stated they are impressed with the Port of Long Beach in terms of what we have to offer going forward – not only the Long Beach Container Terminal (LBCT), but other terminals we are in the position now to receive ships carrying 13,000 to 14,000 TEUs. In fact, if you look at the data, we receive more of that ultra-large-vessel cargo than any other port in the country. The good news is, in a couple more years, we will have a range of terminals that will be capable of receiving vessels carrying 20,000 TEUs.
By Karen E. Thuermer
Correspondent | Washington