How the collapse of the Baltimore bridge will affect supply chains, the economy

The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore on Tuesday cutting off access to much of the city’s port – causing a suspension of shipping traffic that will disrupt a major trade lane and threaten to further disrupt already stressed supply chains.

The Port of Baltimore was the 17th largest in the country by total tonnage in 2021 and an important artery for the movement of cars, construction machinery and coal. According to Maryland data, it handled 52.3 million tons of foreign goods worth about $81 billion in 2023, and creates more than 15,000 jobs.


Top ten imports and exports in the Port

of Baltimore in 2023

electronic

machinery,

electronics

furniture,

bed,

lights

electronic

machinery,

electronics

Seeds, grains,

fruits, plants

Air and space

craft, part

Coal, oil and

natural gas

Note: not seasonally adjusted. Vehicles with the exception of railways

and the tram. Nickel, aluminum, paper and wood include

derivatives of those goods

The top ten imports and exports at the Port of Baltimore in 2023

Electronic machinery

and electronics

machinery,

including

farm work and

BuIldINg

furniture,

bed,

lights

Electronic machinery

and electronics

plane,

spaceship, parts

Seeds, grains,

fruits, plants

coal,

oil and

natural

gas

Note: not seasonally adjusted. Vehicles with the exception of railways and trams. Nickel, aluminum,

paper and wood include derivatives of these goods

The top ten imports and exports at the Port of Baltimore in 2023

Electronic machinery

and electronics

Electronic machinery

and electronics

machinery,

including

farm work and

BuIldINg

plane,

spaceship,

parts

Seeds, grains,

fruits, plants

coal,

oil and

natural

gas

furniture,

bedding, lights

Note: not seasonally adjusted. Vehicles with the exception of railways and trams. Nickel, aluminum, paper and wood include

derivatives of those goods

On Tuesday, the Port of Baltimore said vessel traffic in and out of the port would be suspended until further notice, but trucks would still to be processed in its terminals.

“Baltimore is not one of the largest ports in the United States, but it is a good, moderate-sized port,” said Campbell University maritime historian Sal Mercogliano. It has five public and 12 private terminals to handle port traffic.


Northern Shrimp

Marine Point

Terminal

Port of Baltimore

Truck Plaza

Hawkins Point

Marine Terminal

Northern Shrimp

Marine Point

Terminal

Port of Baltimore

Truck Plaza

Hawkins Point

Marine Terminal

Northern Shrimp

Marine Point

Terminal

Port of Baltimore

Truck Plaza

Hawkins Point

Marine Terminal

“It makes cars, it makes bulk carriers, it makes containers, it makes passengers.” Mercogliano said. “So this is going to have a big impact.”

Baltimore is the nation’s top port for auto shipments, having imported and exported more than 750,000 vehicles in 2022, according to the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, an industry group.

About three-quarters of the cars that travel through the port are imports, dominated by big-name brands including Mazda and Mercedes-Benz. Most major companies have enough inventory on the lots of U.S. dealers that any immediate impact on supply is unlikely, said Ambrose Conroy, chief executive of consulting firm Seraph.

“It’s too early to say what impact this incident will have on the auto business, but there will certainly be a disruption,” said John Bozzella, president of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation.

The port ranked second in the nation for coal exports last year, according to the state of Maryland. But it is not a major global supplier of thermal coal and the outage is likely to be offset by replacements from Australia or Indonesia if needed, said Alexis Ellender, principal analyst at global trade intelligence firm Kpler.

Baltimore is also a niche port for the soybean trade, focusing primarily on high-value soybeans used in tofu, miso, tempeh and organic products, according to Mike Steenhoek, executive director of the Soy Shipping Coalition. Most of those exports are destined for Asia, but Steenhoek doesn’t expect a big spike in tofu prices because several other U.S. ports also ship this type of soybean, including Norfolk, Va., Savannah, Ga. and Charleston, SC

All of the East Coast ports have become more important in recent years as the United States tries to increase its trade with friendly countries and reduce the geopolitical risks associated with trade with China, which usually goes through West Coast ports, he said. Tinglong Dai, a Johns Hopkins professor and expert on global supply chains.

The shutdown of the Baltimore port is “another disruption in an already stressed system” for the global supply chain, said Abe Eshkenazi, chief executive of the Society for Supply Chain Management. Cargo will now have to be redirected to other ports, which means figuring out where there is enough capacity to move things.


East coast ports and shipping density

But you

of Baltimore

5th largest port

on the east coast

for foreign trade

East coast ports and shipping density

But you

of Baltimore

5th largest port

on the east coast

for foreign trade

East coast ports

and transport density

Port of Baltimore

5th largest port in

east coast for foreign trade

Coal shipments will have to be redirected to other ports, Kpler’s Ellender said. And Ryan Petersen, chief executive of logistics company Flexport, posted on X that the company currently has 800 containers on a bunch of ships headed for the port that will have to be diverted, likely to Philadelphia or Norfolk.

The biggest problem Steenhoek sees from the Baltimore shutdown is the knock-on effect on other ports. Many ships stuck in port were meant to stop at other U.S. ports to load and unload cargo before heading overseas, a complicated logistical dance that has now been engulfed by the bridge collapse.

“It just shows how it throws a wrench in the supply chain and the impact is not limited to that port,” Steenhoek said.

Tim Meko, Justine McDaniel and David J. Lynch contributed to this report. Editing by Kate Rabinowitz and Karly Domb Sadof.

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