China Tariff Escalation Would Hit These 10 U.S. Seaports And Airports Particularly Hard

Ken Roberts

Add five U.S. airports and five seaports to the list of those with a great deal to fear because the tariff battle that went into effect Friday between China and the U.S. appears likely to escalate.

These five seaports and five airports, in particular, have a great deal to fear because like other airports and seaports, as well as the nation’s border crossings, they generate a significant percentage of their operating budgets from fees on imports, fees that are based on the tonnage of those imports rather than the value and paid by airlines and shipping lines.

While the impact will be felt broadly at airports and seaports across the nation, just the top five seaports account for more than two-thirds of that water-borne tonnage stamped Made in China and just the top five airports more than 70% of those products that are flying in. This is based on U.S. Census data through May, which was released Friday and which I analyzed.

While the tariffs levied on U.S. imports thus far have been relatively minor, on about $34 billion of more than $505 billion in 2017 imports, Trump has threatened that the tariffs could engulf almost all Chinese imports.

A larger tariff fight would not only affect revenues at the following seaports and airports but also the surrounding trade infrastucture — workers at the seaports and airports, truck drivers and train lines, customs brokers who help clear the imports, bankers involved in financing the trade, and more.

A quick rundown of those five seaports and five airports follows.

You can check on all gateways for U.S. total trade with China by clicking here and scrolling down to the port section. From there, you can toggle between airports and seaports as well as value vs. tonnage and the current month, 2017 or year-to-date data. The totals will include exports as well as imports.

Looking just at imports from China by tonnage, here are the top five seaports:

  1. Port of Los Angeles. Among more than 450 U.S. aiports, seaports and border crossings, the Port of Los Angeles leads the nation both by value and tonnage. It accounts for 32.69% of the tonnage of China’s imports. By tonnage, the top two imports are furniture and motor vehicle parts, accounting for more than 10% of the total.
  2. Port of Long Beach. It accounts for 11.42% of the total, with the top imports furniture, seats generally for motor vehicles and motor vehicle parts, which are accounting for more than 15% of the total.
  3. Port Newark accounts for 10.29% of Chinese imports this year by tonnage, with furniture and seats accounting for slightly less than 11% of the total.
  4. The Port of Savannah is at 8.14% of the total weight of Chinese imports into the United States this year, led by furniture, seats and motor vehicle parts, at just under 17% of the total.
  5. Rounding out the top five is Port Houston, at 5.43% of the tonnage, with almost 17% in four categories: taps, cocks and valves for pipes and storage tanks; furniture and parts; seats; and air conditioning machines.

On the airport side, a majority is landing at just two airports: Chicago’s O’Hare and Los Angeles International. Here is a rundown of the top five:

  1. O’Hare. Of the total tonnage arriving from China by air, 28.57% flies into Chicago, with 36% of the total in cell phones and related equipment as well as computers.
  2. LAX. The Los Angeles airport accounts for 22.4% of the total tonnage, with 17% in computers and cell phones and another 5.9% in women’s suits and skirts.
  3. New York’s JFK International accounts for 10.6% of the total. The leading imports from China by tonnage are computers, women’s suits and skirts, and cell phones, which account for almost one-fourth of the total tonnage.
  4. Dallas-Fort Worth International accounts for 5.21% of the total, with 32% in cell phones and related equipment and another 9% in computers.
  5. Rounding out the top five is San Francisco International, with 5.17% of the total. Cell phones, computers and computer parts are accounting for slightly less than 30% of the tonnage.