A new cooperative effort to retain and attract shipping business to the Pacific Northwest unveiled Thursday night was born from new competitive conditions that threatened the ports of Seattle and Tacoma's growth.
"John (Wolfe, Port of Tacoma CEO) and Tay (Yoshitani, Port of Seattle chief executive) have been talking for months," said Port of Tacoma spokeswoman Tara Mattina Friday.
Shipping lines have been playing hard ball with ports because their profits have been squeezed in recent months, and new alternatives such as ports in Canada and Mexico and larger ships transiting through an enlarged Panama Canal have developed.
They decided, she said, that if those talks were going to lead to closer collaboration between the two rival Puget Sound ports, they'd have to seek federal permission to begin sharing the fine details of their finances if the talks were going to lead to new efforts to win shipping business for the region.
The two ports Thursday unveiled a letter they sent to the FMC seeking that permission. If the commission has no objections, the working arrangement will go into effect March 7.
Both sides said the new information sharing is not a prelude to a merger of the two ports, a measure likely to encounter stern political opposition.
Clare Petrich, the Tacoma Port Commission's president, confirmed the new cooperative spirit doesn't extend to merger talks.
The two ports historically have had different operating philosophies. The Port of Tacoma has stayed focused on shipping and industrial development. The Port of Seattle has a broader mission. In addition to operating shipping facilities, the Port of Seattle operates Sea-Tac Airport, several marinas, a fishing boat facility and commercial real estate operations.
The two ports have raid each other for customers on several occasions in recent years. Most recently, the Port of Tacoma won the business of the Grand Alliance, a consortium of container shipping lines which moved from the Port of Seattle in the summer of 2012 to the Port of Tacoma.
The two ports have seen the shipping business concentrate its shipping activities by sharing ships and by employing more efficient, larger vessels which limit their calls to one or two ports on the West Coast.
Additionally, ports in both Canada and Mexico are making efforts to attract container lines to their facilities. By doing so, container lines can avoid U.S. port taxes and transport containers from those ports to the Midwest by rail.