How the Baltimore bridge collapse will affect supply chains and the economy
How the Baltimore bridge collapse will affect supply chains and the economy

The collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore on Tuesday cut off access to much of the city’s port – causing a halt to shipping traffic that would disrupt a key trade route and threaten to further entangle already strained supply chains.

The port of Baltimore was 17th largest in the nation by total tonnage in 2021 and an important artery for the movement of automobiles, construction machinery and coal. It handled 52.3 million tons of foreign cargo worth nearly $81 billion in 2023, according to Maryland data, and created more than 15,000 jobs.


The port’s top ten imports and exports

from Baltimore in 2023

Electronic

machines,

electronics

Furniture,

mats,

lights

Electronic

machines,

electronics

Seeds, grains,

fruits, plants

Air and space

craft, parts

Coal, oil and

natural gas

Note: without seasonal adjustment. Vehicles except railway vehicles

and trams. Nickel, aluminum, paper and wood are included

derivatives of these commodities

Top 10 Port of Baltimore Imports and Exports in 2023

Electronic machines

and electronics

machines,

inclusive

agricultural work and

construction

Furniture,

mats,

lights

Electronic machines

and electronics

airplane,

spaceships, parts

Seeds, grains,

fruits, plants

coal,

oil and

naturally

gas

Note: without seasonal adjustment. Vehicles with the exception of railway and tram lines. Nickel, Aluminum,

paper and wood include derivatives of these goods

Top 10 Imports and Exports to the Port of Baltimore in 2023

Electronic machines

and electronics

Electronic machines

and electronics

machines,

inclusive

agricultural work and

construction

airplane,

spacecraft,

parts

Seeds, grains,

fruits, plants

coal,

oil and

naturally

gas

Furniture,

mats, lights

Note: without seasonal adjustment. Vehicles with the exception of railway and tram lines. Nickel, aluminum, paper and wood are included

derivatives of these commodities

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

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


Northern grasshopper

Point Marine

Terminal

Port of Baltimore

Truck Plaza

Hawkins Point

Marine terminal

Northern grasshopper

Point Marine

Terminal

Port of Baltimore

Truck Plaza

Hawkins Point

Marine terminal

Northern grasshopper

Point Marine

Terminal

Port of Baltimore

Truck Plaza

Hawkins Point

Marine terminal

“It makes cars, bulk carriers, containers, passengers,” Mercoliano said. “So that’s going to have a big impact.”

Baltimore is the nation’s top port for auto shipments, importing and exporting 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 imported, dominated by well-known brands including Mazda and Mercedes-Benz. Most of the leading companies have ample inventory in US dealer lots, so an 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 disruption,” said John Bozella, president of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation.

The port was the nation’s second-largest coal exporter last year, according to the state of Maryland. But it is not a huge global supplier of thermal coal and the outage could likely be offset by replacements from Australia or Indonesia if needed, said Alexis Ellender, lead analyst at global trade intelligence firm Kpler.

Baltimore is also a niche soybean market, focusing mostly on high-quality soybeans used in tofu, miso, tempeh and organic products, according to Mike Steenhook, executive director of the Soy Transportation Coalition. Most of those exports are destined for Asia, but Steenhoek doesn’t expect a big jump in tofu prices as several other US ports also ship the soybean, including Norfolk, Virginia, Savannah, Georgia and Charleston, South Carolina

All East Coast ports have become more important in recent years as the United States seeks to boost trade with friendly nations and reduce the geopolitical risks associated with trade with China, which typically goes through West Coast ports, Tinglong said. Dye, a Johns Hopkins professor and expert on global supply chains.

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


East Coast Ports and Shipping Density

The port

from Baltimore

5th largest port

on the east coast

for foreign trade

East Coast Ports and Shipping Density

The port

from Baltimore

5th largest port

on the east coast

for foreign trade

Ports on the East Coast

and delivery density

Port of Baltimore

5th largest port of

east coast for foreign trade

Coal shipments will have to be diverted to other ports, Kpler’s Ellender said. And Ryan Peterson, CEO of logistics company Flexport, posted on X that the company currently has 800 containers on multiple ships bound for the port that will need to be diverted, possibly to Philadelphia or Norfolk.

The biggest problem Steenhook sees in Baltimore’s formwork is the knock-on effect on other ports. Many ships stranded in port were meant to stop at other American ports to load and unload goods before heading overseas, a complex logistical dance now scrambled by the bridge collapse.

“It just shows how you throw a wrench in the supply chain and the impact is not limited to that one port,” Steenhook said.

Tim Meko, Justin McDaniel and David J. Lynch contributed to this report. Editing by Kate Rabinowitz and Carly Domb Sadoff.

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