April 17, 2019 12:30 PM, EDT

As Trade Grows, Port of Oakland Gets Shipping Line to Vietnam

Port of OaklandA containership waits to be unloaded at the Port of Oakland. (Ben Margot/Associated Press)

Boosted by extraordinary trade growth with Vietnam, the Port of Oakland will offer a direct line to the Southeast Asian nation.

Pacific International Lines will operate the service using vessels that can carry up to 11,900 20-foot equivalent units, according to a news release from the port.

“Pacific International Lines’ new direct service from the Port of Oakland is a good sign of increasing demand on Vietnam routes,” Port of Oakland Maritime Director John Driscoll said in an April 15 statement. “Vietnam is showing strong growth in its import and export markets.”

The trade with Vietnam appears to be insulating the Oakland port from a slowdown with China trade.

Driving that demand for U.S. goods from the Oakland port is a growing middle class in Asia, particularly Vietnam, but also South Korea, according to Port of Oakland spokesman Mike Zampa. That means a desire for some of the finer U.S. agricultural goods, including meats, nuts, dried fruits and wine, Zampa said.

And despite curbs on recyclables heading to China from the Oakland port, Vietnam has been importing scrap paper from the United States, Zampa told Transport Topics. The scrap paper is often recycled into products Vietnam can use for trade, such as boxes.

In 2018, Vietnam was the Port of Oakland’s third-largest import market and fifth-largest export market, according to port officials.

The United States is Vietnam’s top trading partner, accounting for more than 21% of its export-import business, according to the World Bank’s 2017 numbers.

In 2018, Vietnam imported about $9.7 billion in goods from the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The United States imported $49.2 billion in goods from Vietnam the same year.

Growth in trade between the nations is especially hot in Oakland. When measured by volume, American exports to Vietnam from Oakland have grown by 126% since 2015.

John Driscoll


And Oakland imports from Vietnam have grown 29% since 2015, port officials said.

The new Pacific International service route between the Port of Oakland and Vietnam is in response to Vietnam’s expanding import and export markets, port officials said.

The Port of Oakland oversees the Oakland Seaport, Oakland International Airport and nearly 20 miles of waterfront, according to port officials.

Business in general has improved at the port by more than 4.2%.

On April 12, the Port of Oakland reported that through the end of March it handled 612,151 TEUs compared with 587,356 during the same period in 2018. That represents a 4.2% increase, officials said.

Driscoll said there was concern in the shipping industry that a recent import surge has cooled. The upswing was caused by shippers trying to get ahead of possible new tariffs affecting U.S.-China trade, Driscoll said.

“Though the import rally has calmed down, we are still seeing a strong consumer demand in Northern California and western Nevada,” Driscoll said. “The Bay Area’s strong consumer-based economy has helped the Port of Oakland absorb the impact of the weakening rally better than other ports.”

The Port of Oakland handled 213,972 TEUs in March compared with 193,341 in March 2018, according to port officials. That represented a 10.7% increase. Loaded exports grew 7.6% last month compared with March 2018, port officials reported.