As Republicans and Democrats have skirmished over the economy on the campaign trail, port bottlenecks – a major driver of supply chain woes and inflation – have largely returned to pre-pandemic levels, according to Los Angeles' port chief.
“We've taken the backlog of ships from 109 in January of this year, down to the low single-digits," Gene Seroka, Chief Executive of the Port of Los Angeles, told Spectrum News in an interview Monday. "As of this morning, there were three ships lined up to come into the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach."
The Port of L.A. had become a major bottleneck in the U.S. supply chain in 2021 and into early 2022, with ships waiting for 9 days or longer in the Pacific to be docked and unloaded. In May, Seroka told Spectrum News that they've been "moving record amounts of cargo" every month for roughly two years.
“It's been like taking 10 lanes of freeway traffic In Los Angeles, and trying to squeeze it into five. You're still moving a lot of cargo, but not enough compared to the demand," Seroka said at the time.
Nearly six months later, the backlog has disappeared.
"We're probably at about 70% of normal capacity, because a lot of cargo has moved to the east and Gulf Coast in the past two months," Seroka said, noting that while the buildup at those ports certainly needs attention, it remains far less of a concern than it was a few months ago.
While the snarling at U.S. ports created a number of logistical issues nationwide, Seroka says one positive that came out of the issue is that it has created open dialogue between pieces of the supply chain and the White House.
“We have retired four star Army General Stephen R. Lyons, who was our supply chain port envoy appointed by President Biden, still hold[ing] weekly calls with all of the supply chain stakeholders throughout the country working on areas that need improvement," he said.
When asked if the issue of the supply chain had been politicized, Seroka demurred, saying that in this political climate, politics is inevitable.
"Unfortunately, politics is in nearly every conversation here in the United States," Seroka said. "But for the supply chain, the folks that work with us every day feed house and clothe Americans, our responsibilities are great."
“We as American consumers make up 70% of our nation's economy," Seroka said, urging Americans to "keep buying, keep going to the store, keep purchasing online, we're going to get it to you, we're going to continue to improve. That's our job to serve you as the American consumer.”
But it’s undeniable that consumers' wallets are hurting amid high inflation, which has hit four-decade highs. Seroka said that it's their responsibility to drive down costs by moving cargo quickly and smoothly in the hopes that increased costs do not get passed down to consumers.
“If it costs more to transport your goods, chances are that retailers and others are going to pass that increased cost on to us the consumers," he said. "So it's our job to continue to bring down costs by moving cargo more efficiently, not letting it sit and wait."
"The more we can do to keep this cargo flowing smoothly will alleviate those cost pressures for the American consumer," Seroka added.