Port of Miami's shipments to Mideast, Africa, Southwest Asia soaring
By Paola Iuspa
Cargo shipped between Miami and the Middle East, Southwestern Asia and Africa quadrupled in the past six months, surprising port and shipping officials.
Overall, the volume of cargo heading to regions such as Saudi Arabia, Israel, Turkey, Cameroon and South Africa from the Port of Miami jumped to 40,000 tons in the first half of 2002, up from 7,000 tons for the same period a year earlier. Imports from the same region jumped to 96,000 tons, up from 24,000, according to Port of Miami records.
The Port of Miami's traditional customer base is Latin America and the Caribbean, accounting for 62% of its total volume, according to port officials. Bernard "Berny" List, assistant port director, said the increases in new regions can help offset recent decreases in South American markets.
Exports to South America fell from about 619,000 tons in the first six months of 2001 to about 474,000 for the same period this year.
Miami's seaport only handles cargo in containers, not bulk cargo, Mr. List said.
Does it mean trade with countries in that region is increasing and more products are passing through Miami's seaport?
An increase in tonnage doesn't necessarily mean an increase in trade, said Manuel Mencia, senior vice president for international trade and business development for Enterprise Florida, who said the jump could be attributed to heavier merchandise rather than in increase in export or import sales.
He also said volume is not a dependable indicator of increased trade activity, because more tons don't always translate into more money.
It could be one or two companies importing aircraft parts, increasing the tonnage, rather than 100 importers or exporters doing new businesses, Mr. Mencia said.
On the other hand, Mr. Mencia said he is noticing a growing trading relationship between South Florida and some countries in Africa.
"Exports to Cameroon went up to $40 million in the second quarter of 2002, from $400,000 in the same period last year," he said.
It is unclear what percentage of those exports to the African republic was shipped in containers or was bulk cargo.
Mr. List said port officials could not explain the increase to certain regions because the port does not keep records of what is being transported or where cargo is coming from or going to. Each shipping company operating from the port keeps its own information, he said.
Port officials track the number of containers moving through the port, he said.
"More tonnage means more containers," Mr. List said. "And that is very good for us." In fiscal 2001, cargo moving through the port exceeded 8.2 million tons, with exports of 3.8 million tons and imports of 4.4 million. The number of containers handled during that period reached 955,671, up 10% from the previous year, according to the port.
In general terms, Mr. List said he observed a jump in the amount of coffee beans from Vietnam, one of the world's largest coffee growers, entering the US through Miami. Until recently, most of those beans came through ports in New Orleans and New York.
Executives of Mediterranean Shipping Co., one of the few firms from Miami serving that region, said they had not noticed the cargo increase from the Middle East and Africa region.
The carrier has three sailings a week to that area and Europe. Of the 3,000 containers aboard each vessel, seven are bound for the Middle East and seven to South Africa.
Jose I. Aguirre, vice president of exports for Miami International Forwarders, one of Miami's largest logistics companies offering transportation and warehousing, said his clients bring a minimal amount of cargo from Africa and Middle East. But, he said he has started to see a slight increase in apparel coming in containers from Jordan.
In 2001, Florida's total merchandise trade with the Middle East and North Africa in 2001 grew 1%, to $975.3 million, according to Enterprise Florida. Exports from Florida to that region dropped 2.6% to $677.4 million while Florida's imports rose 10.4% over 2000, to $297.9 million.
Florida's total trade with Sub-Saharan African countries rose 14.6% in 2001, to $298.2 million, of which about half was with the region's largest economy, the Republic of South Africa. Florida's exports increased 15.2% over 2000, reaching $183.2 million, while Florida's imports rose 13.7%, to $115.1 million.