Consuming in the Global Marketplace

In a global economy the world seems a lot smaller. Not so long ago, products from foreign places seemed exotic and unusual. In the early 21st century, the United States is the world’s leading consumer of manufactured products from around the globe. Check the tags on your clothing, textiles, cookware, and electronics. How often do you see «Made in USA?»

Container Port, Long Beach, California, 2007

Photograph by Ernesto Rodriguez

Courtesy of the Port of Long Beach

Container ships are a major part of this shrinking world. They carry enormous quantities of products and materials that end up in stores near you. In 2006 alone, about 18 million containers stuffed with cargoes of all sorts were sent on more than 200 million trips by sea, rail, and road to places around the world.

How much stuff fits in a single container?

  • 350 bicycles from Thailand, or
  • 200 dishwashers and washing machines from Hong Kong, or
  • 640 vacuum cleaners from Malaysia

How long does a voyage take?

  • A typical voyage from Hong Kong to Los Angeles/ Long Beach takes two weeks.

What happens when the ship arrives in the United States?

  • Each container is lifted off the ship by a longshoreman operating a giant gantry crane. Within hours the containers are on their way on trucks or railcars bound for distribution centers or retail stores.

What does the United States send back?

  • Because the United States imports more than it exports, two-thirds of the containers sent back to Asia are empty.
  • Top ten exports from the United States to Asia in 2008 were:
    • Wastepaper
    • Plastic and Rubber
    • Seeds, Beans, Cereals, Flour
    • Wood
    • Meat
    • Scrap Metal
    • Chemicals
    • Fruit and Nuts
    • Straw and other plaiting materials
    • Vehicles

What about inspections?

  • Shippers send a manifest to U.S. Customs officials listing each container's contents and everyone who packed or transported it to the pier, before their cargo leaves a foreign port. This information is sent to a central office in the United States where a risk level is assigned. With millions of containers entering the country, only those identified as high-risk are X-rayed or physically inspected upon arrival.

Photograph by Kathleen Tomandl

Courtesy of the Port of Tacoma

Ships and merchant mariners...will continue to be a vital part of America’s future.
Albert J. Herberger, Vice Admiral U.S. Navy (Ret.) and U.S. Maritime Administrator (1993-97)