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Growing Pains at US Ports Blamed on China Trade Imbalance


China's booming economy has led to a flood of imports bound for the U.S. The majority of those imports arrive in the country's West Coast seaports. As VOA's Mil Arcega reports, the magnitude of that inflow has both shipping agents and port operators scrambling to keep up.

Ships carrying trans-Pacific cargo arrive daily at the Port of Seattle. Although the peak season is still months away, port operators say the pace of inbound traffic is brisk, the bulk of it -- consumer goods from China.

It's the same in other West Coast ports in Los Angeles and Oakland, California, where older facilities are overwhelmed by the growing wave of Chinese imports.

Peter Hurme is the publisher of Marine Digest magazine. He says, "I think we're going to have to start looking at solutions, where we start to build more inland depots."

China is capitalizing on western technology to speed the turnaround times for its vessels, which has led to bottlenecks in some U.S. ports. Some analysts say the Chinese may have to turn to port facilities in Canada and Mexico if U.S. ports are unable to keep up. The increased traffic at West Coast ports is just one aspect of the growing U.S. trade deficit with China, which surpassed $200 billion last year.

Business consultant James McGregor, who lived in China for 20 years, says part of the problem is poor marketing of American goods in China.

"I see stuff from Italy and Germany and elsewhere, more than America. My friends in China are buying apartments, fitting out their kitchens with Italian appliances. The other technology goods are from Germany. We are not very good in America at export promotion. Our government needs to put more into it and our politicians have to focus on it," says McGregor.

Many in the U.S., including the Bush administration, want to see more U.S.-made goods headed for China. But others say the U.S. must trade on its strengths if it hopes to compete. University of Maryland economics professor Peter Morici says that means leaving low-wage consumer goods to the Chinese. "I mean the U.S. economy is not oriented towards producing and exporting consumer goods. We're oriented towards exporting high value services and sophisticated producer durables."

Port operators don't expect the trade imbalance to change anytime soon. They're meeting in California this week to discuss the increasing demands on U.S. ports.