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LA Port Will Likely Feel Effects From U.S.-China Trade War


We are four days into the trade war between the U.S. and China. And if there is one place that's likely to feel it first, it's the Port of Los Angeles. More than half of the goods that pass through that port are going to or coming from China. NPR's Laura Sydell visited that port with one of the people there who is most concerned.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: It's a gorgeous day here at the Ports O' Call Village, a bustling seaside plaza filled with restaurants, fish markets and gift shops. It's the closest we can get to the official port because customs officials wouldn't let us in. But across the harbor, I can see container cranes towering over the water ready to empty the enormous cargo ships that pass through the harbor.

STEPHEN CHEUNG: And, you can see, heavy-duty operation of cargo and fuel containers are moving back and forth.

SYDELL: Stephen Cheung is president of the World Trade Center, Los Angeles, a nonprofit that promotes trade with the region. Cheung can spout off details about this port as if it were his personal biography. Every year, over 1,800 cargo ships pass through the Port of LA. It covers 43 miles along the coast. And if the East Coast looks out to Europe, the West Coast looks across the water to China, the source of over half of this port's $284 billion of trade. Yet today, no one around here, including Cheung in his well-appointed suit appears worried.

CHEUNG: Physically, it can look the same. But emotionally - for me, at least - I'm not the same.

SYDELL: Cheung says Los Angeles has more manufacturing-related positions than anywhere in the U.S., over 350,000, in industries such as aerospace, transportation, medical equipment, computer chips. All of these industries export goods to China. He's worried that when China retaliates, it will target them.

CHEUNG: Those products are now potentially on the line for an increase in tariff. And when it's more expensive for us to export our product into China, we're not going to be as competitive with other products coming from Europe, coming from Japan, coming from Korea.

SYDELL: And these goods pass through the Port of Los Angeles, or the second-largest port in the country, Long Beach, just south of it. But the impact of tariffs that hit here are going to be felt in every state. Nick Vyas heads the Center for Global Supply Chain Management at the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California.

NICK VYAS: Roughly 40 percent of the goods that touches all 50 states comes through San Pedro Bay, which is part of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

SYDELL: Vyas says if the trade war continues, prices at Walmart and dollar stores, which get goods from China, are going to go up. And those retailers dominate the middle of the country. World Trade Center LA president Cheung says he actually agrees with the Trump administration that China does engage in unfair trade practices. But he looks out across the harbor, and he's not seeing any winners in this battle.

CHEUNG: I don't think Angelenos see the connection between international trade and the Port of Los Angeles with their lives. I think they'll see it when the impact comes.

SYDELL: Cheung hopes cooler heads prevail before the people enjoying the beautiful weather here today ever feel that impact. Laura Sydell, NPR News, Los Angeles. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura Sydell fell in love with the intimate storytelling qualities of radio, which combined her passion for theatre and writing with her addiction to news. Over her career she has covered politics, arts, media, religion, and entrepreneurship. Currently Sydell is the Digital Culture Correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and