Moving Along: Ports And FTZs

As total U.S. exports and imports grow with global trade, waterborne vessels continue to carry a large share of goods.

By Nora Caley
From the May / June 2024 Issue


Much of the export and import of goods in the U.S. happens through the nation’s ports. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), in its “2024 Port Performance Freight Statistics Annual Report,” the U.S. had $7 trillion in exports and imports of goods and services in 2022, the highest on record. Goods, which accounted for 77% of that total, exceeded $5.3 trillion in 2022, up from $4.6 trillion in 2021.

Part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, BTS reported that ports handled 42.9% of the U.S. international trade by value in 2022. Total U.S. imports of goods grew by almost $424 billion or 14.9%, and the export of goods grew by more than $324 billion, or 18.4%, between 2021 and 2022. Waterborne vessels, the leading transportation mode for U.S.-international trade in goods, transported U.S.-international freight at record levels, with cargo value peaking at more than $206 billion in May 2022.

U.S. FTZs employ approximately 500,000 workers across 1,200 active zone operations in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, according to the National Association of Foreign-Trade Zones.

That peak was an indication that ports were successfully mitigating the reported delays in docking. In 2023, the report noted, container ships waiting to enter U.S. ports showed marked improvement over 2021 and 2022. In February 2022, a peak was reached of more than 150 weekly container ships waiting to dock, a result of pandemic-era congestion caused by increased consumer demand and other factors. By November 2023, the number of container ships waiting to dock nationwide had decreased to seven.

Ports are making other improvements, a result of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which President Biden signed in 2021. Among other provisions, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provides $150 million from the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Reduction of Truck Emissions at Port Facilities (RTEPF) Grant Program. The grants will fund projects such as replacing gas and diesel trucks and shuttle buses at some ports with zero-emissions vehicles and charging equipment.

Special duty benefits and customs procedures are available through the longstanding Foreign-Trade Zone program. FTZs are designated locations in the U.S. where companies can get tax, logistical, and other cost savings through special customs procedures and special tariff treatment and duty benefits. According to the National Association of Foreign-Trade Zones, U.S. FTZs employ approximately 500,000 workers across 1,200 active zone operations in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

Here are some locations offering resources that are helping companies import and export.

Port Of Long Beach, CA: Reliability & Sustainability

The Port of Long Beach is a global leader in operational excellence and top-notch customer service, moving cargo with reliability, speed and efficiency — making it the premier U.S. gateway for trans-Pacific trade.

Located in Southern California and part of the San Pedro Bay ports complex, the busiest in the nation, the Port of Long Beach handles trade valued at $200 billion annually and supports 2.6 million trade-related jobs across the United States, including 575,000 in Southern California and one in five jobs in Long Beach.

Spanning 3,200 acres with 31 miles of waterfront, 10 piers, 72 post-Panamax cranes and some of the deepest berths in the country, the Port’s world-class facilities can accommodate the largest shipping vessels in the world.

Ports and FTZs
Located in Southern California and part of the San Pedro Bay ports complex, the Port of Long Beach handles trade valued at $200 billion annually. (Photo: Port of Long Beach)


In 2021, the Port completed the final phase of the world’s most technologically advanced container terminal — the Long Beach Container Terminal at Middle Harbor.

$2.3 Billion in Projects. In the next 10 years, the Port is planning $2.3 billion in modernization projects, to further prepare for the demands of global trade. Plans include investing $1.5 billion in on-dock rail projects, designed to shift more container cargo to rail. The Port’s capital improvement program is designed to enhance marine terminal productivity, deliver greater efficiency to customers and improve the sustainability of operations.

Digital Innovation. A data solution known as the “Supply Chain Information Highway” is under development by the Port of Long Beach to offer a flexible, safe source of data, giving operators the information they need, when they need it.

And by operating Foreign Trade Zone 50, the Port of Long Beach helps qualifying businesses to decrease operating costs and increase cash flow by reducing, deferring, or eliminating customs duties and excise taxes.

Customers choose the Port of Long Beach for the most dependable, cost-effective, and fastest delivery of goods in the world, along with the strong relationships it maintains with industry, community, environmental advocates, and partner agencies. In 2023, industry leaders named it “The Best West Coast Seaport in North America” for the fifth consecutive year.

Visit for more information.

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