The wreck of Francis Scott Key Bridge and the Dali container ship, outside Baltimore, MD, on April 25, 2024.

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How much is the Port of Baltimore's closure disrupting US trade?

Nicholas Sougiannis (US Naval Academy), Sherman Robinson (PIIE) and Karen Thierfelder (US Naval Academy)


Photo Credit: Aaron Schwartz/CNP/INSTARimages


The Port of Baltimore closed with the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge on March 26, 2024. Efforts to clear the channel for shipping are ongoing, but logistical disruptions have been, and continue to be, significant. How well will Baltimore’s share of trade be absorbed by the many other ports along the east coast of the United States?

Base metals and minerals transported by bulk cargo ships and rail gondola cars may find an easy diversion through many alternative east coast ports. However, specialized vessels handling equipment such as bulldozers and tractors, as well as most other forms of heavy machinery, may not be so easily redirected. Logistics also may be strained by labor and pier limitations. For example, the Port of Baltimore handled 16 percent of all personal motor vehicle imports and exports, requiring an extensive labor force. Pier and labor availability at other ports may limit the ability to surge operations, while a questionable timeline for lifting the blockade may not be sufficient incentive for other ports to do so.

The Port of Baltimore handled trade worth $6.963 billion in April of 2023, representing 4.429 percent of all US imports and 3.253 percent of all US exports that month. Despite its small size in terms of overall US trade, Baltimore is an important entry and exit point for selected commodities because ports typically specialize.

On the import side, for example, 8 percent of US metal imports (in value terms) entered the United States via the Port of Baltimore (see figure 1). And, at a more detailed commodity level, 80 percent of all US tin imports entered via Baltimore. Tin is most correlated to the soldering of electronic circuit boards, implying stockpile levels of tin and tin ore will determine the impact of the port's closure on industry. Likewise, nickel is a common element most notably used in the production of stainless steel and rechargeable batteries, implying Baltimore’s 38 percent share of all nickel imports may have profound implications for the electric vehicle and battery industry.

On the export side, Baltimore exported 17 percent of the value of all vessels from the United States, which constituted 64 percent of all tractor vehicles, including semitruck tractors as well as agricultural and logistical tractors (see figure 2). Other important exports going through the Port of Baltimore include heavy agricultural machinery (25 percent) and coal (20 percent).

In terms of regions, 52 percent of all trade by value through the Port of Baltimore either originated from or was destined for Europe, and 31 percent to or from Asia (see figure 3).

Figure 1: Eighty percent of all tin and 50 percent of all zinc imports entered the United States via the Port of Baltimore
Figure 2: The Port of Baltimore exported 64 percent of the value of all tractors from the United States
Figure 2: The Port of Baltimore exported 64 percent of the value of all tractors from the United States


USA Trade, Port-level Imports & Exports, April 2023. US Census Bureau: Economic Indicators Division, USA Trade Online,  US Import and Export Merchandise trade statistics. Accessed April 2024.

United States International Trade Commission, Harmonized Tariff Schedule. 2024 HTS Revision 1.

Data Disclosure

The data underlying this analysis are available here.

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