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Port Tampa Bay Expects More Cargo From Mexico And Asia In 2020

SkyConnect trains on a dock at Port Tampa Bay.
SkyConnect trains for Tampa International Airport, built by Mitsubishi in Japan, are unloaded at Port Tampa Bay. PORT TAMPA BAY

2019 was a busy year for Port Tampa Bay. Florida’s largest port set a record for cruise passengers and welcomed cargo ships from Asia. 

CEO Paul Anderson said direct service to Shanghai, Singapore and other Asian ports has been a priority since he was hired in 2012. The service’s launch coincided with a trade war between the Trump Administration and China, which included tariffs and prolonged negotiations on a bilateral trade agreement.

In an interview with WUSF, Anderson said trade between Tampa and China is booming.  “It’s a little bit counterintuitive,” he said. Most of the Chinese cargo unloaded in Tampa is consumer products sold by Walmart, Amazon, and Rooms to Go (the Seffner-based furniture retailer is Florida’s largest importer of Asian-made goods). Tariffs, Anderson said, don’t apply to most of these items.  

“I think we're in a really good position to continue growing here capturing more Asian cargo growth. And I think that bodes well for us to create new jobs, new economic opportunities,” he added.  

Another target for growth: Mexico. The new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement raises requirements for automakers to avoid tariffs. 75 percent of a vehicle’s parts must be made in any of the three countries. Auto components made in Mexico are usually brought into the U.S. by rail. Anderson said it would be faster and cheaper to send those parts by cargo ship.  

“We are reaching out working with not just the ports but more importantly the carriers who carry cargo and the manufacturers to compete for business to bring automobiles through Tampa for distribution,” he said.  

Bradley George was a Morning Edition host and reporter at WUSF until March 2022.