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US Resin Exporters Have Many Routing Options
Kinghood International Logistics Inc | Updated: Mar 02, 2017


The Port of Long Beach is one possible export gateway for plastic resins.

LONG BEACH, California — US exporters of synthetic resins have several potential routes for a coming surge of production to overseas markets and are likely to use all of them, transportation executives said at the JOC’s 17th Annual TPM Conference.


“You don’t want to put everything in one basket,” said Seana Fairchild, senior director, international intermodal sales, at Union Pacific Railroad.


Attracted by shale-gas feedstocks that have turned the United States into the world’s low-cost producer, petrochemical companies have invested tens of billions of dollars into new and expanded plants to produce synthetic resins. Most of that increased production is centered on the Gulf Coast, and virtually all of it is ticketed for export markets, primarily China.


Port Houston, which sits at the center of the expanded production, has been expanding facilities to handle much of the new business. Houston handled 42 percent of US containerized exports of resins during 2016, according to PIERS, a JOC sister product within IHS Markit.


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Houston’s chief competition is expected to come from intermodal rail via Dallas-Fort Worth to the West Coast, and to a lesser extent, the East Coast.


As they seek alternatives, shippers probably will look first to Houston because of its proximity to production, then pursue service via the West Coast and East Coast, in that order, said Fairchild and Ed Zaninelli, president of Griffin Creek Consulting.


“The best option is going to be the local port. When that’s full, they’re going to look for other options,” said Zaninelli. “You don’t want to be a transportation manager or logistics professional who doesn’t have a backup plan.”


Important considerations will include empty-container availability and ship capacity. The gulf now is served by only four all-water services, and Zaninelli noted that resins are heavier than most other containerized cargo.


Rates will help determine whether empty containers are available where needed, and whether carriers add vessel capacity. Zaninelli said current resin rates are below $1,000 per container.


With forecasts that annual US resin exports will increase by as much as 500,000 twenty-foot-equivalent units, it appears there will be plenty of export volume to go around.


Christian Pedersen, vice president, North American trade and marketing at Maersk Line, said all available routes will be used. “We don’t see it as a question of either/or,” he said. “When we talk with our customers, they’re asking for flexibility.”



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