Lesser of two evils

Choice: which candidate is the lesser of two evils for ports? Choice: which candidate is the lesser of two evils for ports?

COMMENT: By the time readers see this article, the 2016 US Presidential election will be underway. But like many US voters, right now I am still scratching my head and trying to figure out which candidate is the lesser of two evils, writes Barry Parker. 

My purpose is not to predict results - polls show a likely very close election - but rather to look at how ports and shipping might fare, depending on the choice of leader.

In the early phases of the campaign, I wrote an article highlighting the proposals by the Democratic nominee, Hilary Clinton, to create an Infrastructure Bank. As the tortuous voyage towards the election in November 2016 ploughed on, this proposal has remained central to the Democratic platform, with the promise of a $275bn infrastructure plan to be formed within the first 100 days of a Clinton presidency. Included in this treasure trove is a $25bn infrastructure bank, which could jumpstart $250bn of additional projects.

On the Republican side of the ballot, Donald Trump is a “builder”, who grew up in the real estate business. For better or worse, he knows how to raise money and put it to use. He had voiced a grand plan to devote $500bn, up to perhaps $1tr, towards infrastructure investment.

Of course, the devil is in the detail, irrespective of which candidate wins, especially when it comes down to hard choices on how, exactly, to fund these grand initiatives. And then it’s up to the ports business to scream as loudly as possible for a share of the allocations, emphasising the economic impacts (jobs, tax revenues, and multiplier spending) but also the importance of working smarter with more efficient supply chains - very much a part of 21st century infrastructure.

In recent years, trade growth fuelling shipping and ports has slowed. On trade matters, Mr Trump has been described as downright “protectionist”. Mrs Clinton is harder to pin down, seemingly OK with the Trans-Pacific Partnership initiative, provided that it’s re-worked.

It’s harder to tell how it all might shake out on domestic employment in the maritime business, though I believe that, perversely, both candidates support the industry, albeit for different reasons.

Mrs Clinton is clearly pro union, while Mr Trump could view shipbuilding and yard work - good for the ports - as a poster child for a craft that could be brought back to America.

So, in spite of all the yelling and antics, whomever emerges victorious the challenge for the ports and maritime-related businesses is to remain vocal, and participate in whatever infrastructure and trade plans emerge.

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