Editorial Board, January 27, 2014, Seattle Times
THE ports of Seattle and Tacoma say they want to explore collaborating as they’ve never collaborated before — perhaps even sharing closely held business secrets — to help attract more international trade to Puget Sound.
Their new initiative is a welcome sign that these fierce competitors now recognize their fiercest competition actually lies elsewhere. Here’s hoping their explorations produce something substantive.
For, while each port has had some success in recent years in luring shipping lines away from the other, Puget Sound’s total share of Pacific container traffic has slipped.
British Columbia and California ports also are vying for that trade. With a wider Panama Canal, which is due to open next year, Gulf and East Coast ports will become serious contenders as well.
To address those threats, Seattle and Tacoma port leaders told the Federal Maritime Commission earlier this month that they want to share information about their container-terminal utilization, operations, costs, rates and plans. Such unprecedented candor, they suggested, could produce insights that would help both ports — and the region — thrive.
If the maritime commission doesn’t object on anti-collusion grounds, talks between the two ports could start in March.
Don’t expect too much too soon. While the ports are seeking federal authorization to share information, they haven’t yet agreed on exactly what they will share.
And a merger of the two is off the table, leaders of both ports agree.
But, for starters, the ports should agree to work more closely to market Puget Sound — not just Seattle, not just Tacoma — as a gateway for Asian imports and U.S. exports.
In the end, what’s important here is getting more container ships and containers into Puget Sound. The port at which they call doesn’t matter nearly as much.
Focus on making the pie bigger, not on who has the biggest piece.