The month of March will tell JaxPort how much impact the coronavirus disruption will have on Jacksonville cargo volumes. JaxPort officials say a diverse cargo mix will keep the impact in check.

While some U.S. ports brace for double-digit plunges in cargo because of the coronavirus outbreak in China, JaxPort doesn’t expect a big decline because China is just one piece of its overall trade profile.


"For us, we’re so diversified that it really has not had an impact on us to date," JaxPort spokeswoman Chelsea Kavanagh said. "March could be a little bit of a different story. We’re not expecting a huge drop-off, but there could be a small blip in March."


The month-long journey that cargo container ships take from China to Jacksonville means the port will experience a delayed reaction from the coronavirus’s disruption of China’s factories.


The ships arriving during the month of March will be the vessels whose loads are most affected by the impact of the drop in manufacturing, so by the end of March, JaxPort will have a clearer picture of the impact on port business.


China experienced a sharp drop in manufacturing amid factory shutdowns as the country used quarantines to contain the spread of the virus.


According to the Centers for Disease Control, no evidence exists that the virus is transmitted by imported goods, and there are no cases of imported products spreading the virus into the United States.


The problem for global trade isn’t that cargo is tainted by the virus, but instead stems from a drop in factory production that means fewer products are coming out of factories and heading to ships for transport to international markets.


The American Association of Port Authorities says the economic impact of the crisis "can easily run into the tens of billions of dollars." Cargo volumes at many U.S. ports could be down by 20 percent or more for the first three months of 2020 compared to the prior year, the association says.


China is one of the Jacksonville port’s fastest-growing trade lanes, but Jacksonville also is a busy port for automobile shipments to a number of countries. Puerto Rico and the Caribbean are Jacksonville’s major trade routes.


Kavanagh said about 8 percent of the cargo container business at JaxPort terminals is from China. Cargo containers are the metal boxes that are stacked high on ships and at terminals.


About half of all the cargo moving through Jacksonville’s port is transported in containers. The rest is shipped in bulk or gets rolled on and off ships.


"That’s where our diversification model really helps out," Kavanagh said.


David Bauerlein: (904) 359-4581