Port of Long Beach

The sun sets behind the flag and giant gantry crane in the Port of Long Beach on Tuesday, July 9, 2019. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

Story: U.S.-China trade war causes instability at Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, the two largest ports in the country.

When: July 2018-present

What happened: In July 2018, the Trump Administration announced $34 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods, prompting the Asian economic powerhouse to retaliate with an equivalent amount of tariffs on American imports.

Multiple rounds of tit-for-tat tariffs have led the U.S. to put taxes on $360 billion worth of Chinese imports. China, America’s largest trading partner, has responded with tariffs on $110 billion of U.S. goods.

And the twin port complex in Long Beach and San Pedro has felt the effects.

At first, the ports saw a surge in traffic as manufacturers and retailers sought to beat the tariffs, help both the L.A. and Long Beach hubs to break cargo records in 2018.

But 2019 was a different story. While the Port of L.A. has seen its traffic slightly increase — partly because of the competitive ebb-and-flow inherent in its relationship with the Long Beach port — its smaller sibling has largely seen imports decrease throughout the year.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. The number of empty cargo containers going in and out of the L.A. port, for example, have so far outpaced last year’s total. The reason, L.A. port spokesman Phillip Sanfield said in August, is that while American importers have tried to beat each tariff round, the reverse hasn’t been true.

The supply chain has also shifted, with more manufacturers shifting operations to Southeast Asia to avoid the tariffs. That shift, port officials say, benefits ports on the East Coast.

Officials for both ports have long decried the economic impact the trade war could have on the region. The L.A. port, after all, says it is connected to one in nine regional jobs and the Long Beach port says it is connected to one in 20 jobs in Southern California — and one in five in the city itself. Combined, the ports handle about $500 billion in cargo annually.

But there may be an end in sight: The two countries have reportedly struck a deal to partially end the trade war, preventing another round of U.S. tariffs, originally set to begin Dec. 15, from kicking in.

But the angst over the trade war’s effects on two of the largest economic drivers in Southern California has been — and will continue to be — palpable.

“If cargo is reduced,” Long Beach port Executive Director Mario Cordero said in August about the potential impacts of continued tariffs, “labor will be reduced.”

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