West Coast
A container ship departs from the Port of Los Angeles in July. Los Angeles and Long Beach combined handled significantly more freight than New York-New Jersey through the first six months of the year. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

CA - L.A. doesn’t love N.Y. over ‘We’re No. 1’ seaport claims

It’s good to be No. 1. That’s the spot held for more than two decades by the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, a combined international trade powerhouse that moves nearly 40% of the products imported from Asia to U.S. stores and factories.

Tens of thousands of jobs across Southern California depend on a steady stream of imports and exports through San Pedro Harbor.

Despite pandemic supply chain snafus, an enormous floating traffic jam of shipsand a dockworker contract dispute at various points during the last three years, the neighboring ports have moved enough big steel cargo boxes to stay at the top of the import-export heap. Along with bragging rights comes the ability to attract more business, more investment and more jobs.

So it came as a bit of a surprise down on the docks late last year when the East Coast rival ports of New York-New Jersey blasted a series of monthly alerts in which officials said their complex was the busiest cargo container handler in America. Then, in April, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey issued a news release headlined: “Port of New York and New Jersey regains top spot as busiest port in the nation.” A flurry of media reports mused on what appeared to be a historic turning point.

“The Port of New York and New Jersey is again No. 1 in the nation,” Port Authority Chairman Kevin O’Toole said in the April news release. Executive Director Rick Cotton said the dethroning of Los Angeles and Long Beach “demonstrates the port’s continued reliability and consistency as other ports experienced uncertainty and challenges.”

But a close examination of the data reveals that Port Authority officials back their claims with some statistical sleight of hand. The Port Authority compared freight traffic through its sprawling two-state jurisdiction with the individual ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach rather than combining the two local ports, as most economists and shipping experts do.

And fresh data show that Los Angeles and Long Beach combined to handle significantly more freight than New York-New Jersey through the first six months of the year despite West Coast labor unrest during much of that time.


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Los Angeles, CA - December 12, 2022: A handful of cargo ships are anchored outside the breakwater of the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, far less than the 100 ship backlog of cargo ships at the ports earlier in the year on Monday, Dec. 12, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA. (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)


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“It’s unfortunate,” said L.A. port Executive Director Gene Seroka, with characteristic understatement. “Because some people in policy areas or in business areas are making decisions on whether to do business with us or not. We have been the nation’s busiest container port for 23 straight years.”

“To the extent that shippers hear those comments and make decisions based on them, it’s troubling,” said Mario Cordero, chief executive of the Long Beach port. Along with Los Angeles, he said, “We will continue to be the biggest gateway for international trade for years to come.”

Officials at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey did not respond to numerous interview requests.

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