Lost in the melee

COMMENT: With the posturing and the politicking done, the real job of running the United States of America now looms large ahead of president-elect Donald Trump. He and his carefully assembled team hold the fate of US infrastructure development, including ports and supporting modes, in their hands, writes Carly Fields.

Trump’s power will be somewhat muted by the complex tangle that is US legislative and governmental processes, but Republican majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate make his job a little easier than that of his predecessor.


When the president-elect is sworn in on January 20 he immediately takes over a number of key powers entrusted to him by the US constitution, US laws, and precedent. Representing seaports throughout the Americas, the American Association of Port Authorities has wasted no time in laying out its stall for Trump’s presidency.


In the last week of November, AAPA sent what it describes as “a multi-faceted document” to Trump’s transition team. In the paper, AAPA hitched its wagon to Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ campaign slogan - a shrewd move. AAPA has taken the line that investment in seaports will help US business compete in markets at home, as well as abroad.


However, on the face of it, Trump’s policy proposals do not lend themselves to development of major ports in the US. If he succeeds in his drive to reduce dependence on international imports, deepsea ports serving the key east-west global trade lane may find they have a lot less to do in a future where cross-country road and rail moves become the order of the day. AAPA itself recognises that international sea trade moving through North American ports stood at 1.79bn metric tons of goods, valued at $2.39tr, in 2014.


Sure, Trump has made a huge $1tr commitment to infrastructure improvements over ten years which does include spending on ports and waterways, but they sit alongside upgrades to roads, bridges, tunnels, airports, railroads, and pipelines. With that shopping list to get through suddenly $1tr doesn’t sound all that generous.


AAPA has been thorough in its requests, with over 20 significant demands of Trump in his presidency. Is it a case of pitching high to allow for the inevitable scale backs and, if so, what are American ports willing to compromise on?


At a fundamental level, Trump’s drive to improve domestic production sits awkwardly with the role of US major ports in serving global trade. American ports may find that they have to compromise a great deal more than they would have liked to get their requests even considered by the president-elect.


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