Nearly one-third of seagoing trade to and from the United States moves through Southern California. The recent terrorist attacks on New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon have already led to a sharp drop in the U.S. airline and tourism industries. Tightened security now threatens to slow shipments through U.S. ports. Despite a possible slowdown, in Long Beach, California officials remain optimistic about international trade.
The attacks on New York's World Trade Center had a particular impact on workers in some 180 World Trade Centers worldwide, including the center in Long Beach. The centers, sponsored by the World Trade Center Association, are aimed at promoting international trade.
Alexander Kramer of the Los Angeles and Long Beach World Trade Center says the New York attack had two results for workers at other centers. "Number one, the level of solidarity, e-mails that were flowing through World Trade Centers in Turkey, in Brazil, Chile, all over the world; flowing, communicating as we always do, but really, with solidarity, from all corners of the globe," he says.
Mr. Kramer says workers were also determined to conduct business as usual. He says the man who was the driving force behind the World Trade Center concept, Guy Tozzoli, was working of out his home in New York the day after his office was destroyed in the attacks.
The U.S. economy was slowing even before the terrorist incidents. Now, the slowdown could become more serious and international trade is likely to suffer.
Art Wong, a spokesman for the port of Long Beach, says added security is one reason. "The Coast Guard is inspecting all of the ships and they're escorting ships through the port, so security has been heightened," he says. "But I don't think that's as much a concern as whether the economy is going to be slowing down trade."
Mr. Wong says that hasn't happened yet, but it probably will.
Alexander Kramer of the Los Angeles and Long Beach World Trade Center worries that heightened security on airlines may hurt business travel, an essential element of completing trade deals.
But Mr. Kramer sees other indications that a trade slowdown may not be severe. He says nearly half of the exports from California at least in terms of value is industrial machinery. He says low consumer confidence can hurt the consumer market, but Asia's factories must replace their aging equipment, so those exports should stay constant.
On another positive note, he expects trade to grow with China and some smaller Asian markets.
"For example, we expect China to be growing five percent, which is a very healthy growth," says Mr. Kramer. "Some alternative markets like the Philippines and Thailand are also showing increases there. So in Asia these alternative markets are showing some opportunities for U.S. exporters."
The trade center official says the United States and Vietnam signed a trade agreement last year, and the U.S. Congress may approve it this year. He says that would open another profitable market.
At the port of Long Beach, spokesman Art Wong has some hope that the United States can avoid a slowdown in trade in the months leading up to the Christmas shopping season. He notes that many Americans are expressing their patriotism, and says they may respond to calls for business as usual.
"There's the small chance, and we're hopeful that maybe people here in the United States might be inspired by the recent events and that they may be encouraged to spend even more to celebrate more this holiday season," says Mr. Wong.
That hasn't happened yet. Retailers are reporting lower than normal sales so far this season.
Still, says Mr. Wong, the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles are undergoing major expansions, which will go ahead as planned. He says the next year may be a slow one, but port officials are holding to their projections that their trading levels will double, or possibly even triple, over the next 20 years.
Photos by VOA's Mike O'Sullivan.