GOING BANANAS: A Journey from Ecuador to the Port of New York and New Jersey

By Ryan Flanagan, Port Commerce

The New York/New Jersey region remains reliant on global trade to sustain an increasingly diverse, high-quality lifestyle enjoyed by millions of its inhabitants. Reflect for a moment on your own life – the clothes you’re wearing, the sneakers you have on, the cell phone on which you’re reading this blog, the exotic ingredients in your breakfast this morning…where were they designed, manufactured, assembled and harvested? How did they get here, and ultimately, to you?

Most of the goods you use each day come from somewhere distant. The t-shirt you’re wearing? Manufactured in Bangladesh. The sneakers you have on? Assembled in Indonesia. The cell phone in your hand? Designed in the United States, but its processor was developed in Taiwan and its assembly completed in China.

Nearly all of the goods you see, taste, touch, use and enjoy make their way through the Port of New York and Jersey.

More than 90 percent of global trade moves via ship. Our port is the largest on the U.S. East Coast, almost 74 million tons of imports and exports in 2014  alone. The Port serves more than 40 ocean carriers with access to all major markets in every corner of the globe. Virtually every aspect of our daily lives is inherently dependent on the viability of the bi-state port network. Without its facilities ensuring the movement of millions of tons of cargo each year, the goods we both rely on and enjoy, such as exotic foods, vehicles, wine, electronics, fuel and the like, would become unavailable.

To understand the port’s reach and complexity, look no further than the common banana. According to statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the United States is one of the planet’s largest consumers of bananas, with import estimates reaching 4,350,000 tons in 2012.

While the banana is common in the diet of millions living in the Port District, it’s a fruit unnatural to this area. The banana is typically cultivated in the tropics and must travel great distances for consumption in world markets. The journey from harvest to the shelf you picked it from is multimodal and complex. Take this hypothetical example:

The fruit was grown and harvested nearly 3,000 miles away in the South American nation of Ecuador. After the banana was picked, it was packaged and placed in trucks destined for coastal ports, where it was transferred to a refrigerated container stacked aboard a container ship. The ship then navigates through the Panama Canal, traverses the Caribbean Sea and sails up the East Coast, where it passes beneath the Verrazano and Bayonne Bridges into Port Elizabeth.

Once in Port, the bananas are transferred from ship to truck, to a ripening room where they await redistribution to consumer markets, and ultimately, to you. This entire process spans less than three weeks, as the fruit has a short window before it goes foul.

Bananas are just one example of the complexity, reach and importance of our port system. Ports serve as the gateway to expanding global trade and commerce, and without such facilities, the region would not receive the very goods it relies upon as the foundation of a high-quality lifestyle we all access and enjoy.

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