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The head of the American Association of Port Authorities is stepping down after more than three decades with the group, and is handing the reins to an industry veteran who believes that the importance of trade to the United States economy will win out amid ongoing negotiations with other countries.
“Things are unsettled, and unsettled means it creates uncertainty and confusion,” said Chris Connor, the group’s incoming president and CEO. He’ll replace Kurt Nagle, who has been with AAPA for 34 years, the last 24 at the leadership helm. Connor, the former global CEO of Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics, will begin transitioning into his new role Sept.23. Nagle will depart Oct.16, at the conclusion of the annual AAPA meeting in Norfolk, Va., the group said in a statement.
Both men agree that making sure government leaders hear the port industry’s concerns when it comes to trade issues is paramount for the group.
“The current situation is unfortunate, and it does create difficulties for operators — the folks trying to plan investments. But the demand for trade will win out in this current round,” Connor told Transport Topics.
“Our focus is very heavily on transportation-related infrastructure and freight transportation,” Nagle added in an interview with TT. “There continues to be a lot of talk, but not a lot of coming together from both the Trump administration and Congress — and both sides of the aisle in Congress — determining what will be included in any infrastructure package that ultimately is put together and how it’s going to be funded on a sustainable basis.
“In terms of policymakers, we really need to be focusing on what our grandchildren’s generation is going to need in terms of infrastructure. You’re talking about major assets that are going to last 50, 60, 70 years and more. We need to be thinking that far in advance.”
Nagle said AAPA and the 130 seaport authorities it represents have two significant concerns: ensuring that the Trump administration does not impose tariffs on the multimillion dollar cranes that are being ordered and installed at numerous facilities around the country, and minimizing the potential economic damage that could be done if the negotiations between the United States and China on trade issues do not yield an agreement. Trump has said he would impose a new round of higher tariffs on an additional $300 billion in Chinese products imported into the U.S.
“We do think it’s important that we reach an agreement on these issues as quickly as possible, so that we can return more stability and more certainty to the trade environment,” Nagle emphasized.
During his tenure, the ports have invested hundreds of billions of dollars in improvements, including $155 billion spent between 2016 and 2021 that’s earmarked for deepening shipping channels, improving access roads for trucks, adding hundreds of miles of freight rail track, purchasing cranes capable of loading and unloading larger ships and taking steps to improve the environment around ports — especially when it comes to reducing emissions.
“I’m looking forward to having an opportunity to be a voice in that discussion and getting a better understanding of that infrastructure — specifically the ports — and doing that successfully,” Connor said.
The incoming leader also believes trade between nations can continue to thrive despite the concerns about tariffs.
In the long run, trade is not going away. There will be vibrant trade between nations for a long time. It’s been around for a long time, and it will remain in place,” Connor said.
Connor joined WWL in 1994, and held a variety of positions until being named CEO in 2013. He previously spent seven years with Crowley Maritime Corp., and six years with United States Lines. He has held posts in Asia, Europe and the U.S. during his career.
“I have a great deal of respect and appreciation for the role that ports play in world commerce, and it’s with that baseline of experience that I will enter into my new responsibilities,” Connor said.
In retirement, Nagle said he plans to spend more time with his grandchildren, and on the golf course.
Separately, the Port of Oakland announced the retirement of Executive Director Chris Lytle, a 53-year industry veteran who has led the facility for the past six years. Lytle, whose retirement will be effective July 19, will remain as a consultant through the end of the year. Port attorney Danny Wan will serve as acting director of the facility until Lytle’s successor is named, the port said.