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28/01/2005 | Wall Street’s Robert Hormats warns on port security

Martin Edwin Andersen

WASHINGTON—A terrorist attack, or even a credible threat of one, on one or more U.S. seaports could have far-reaching effects on an American economy that is much less resilient than it was on September 11, 2001, a respected Wall Street economist warned Thursday.

 

Robert Hormats, a vice chairman at Goldman Sachs International in New York, said that even the suspicion of a bomb being hidden inside a container on a vessel docked in a U.S. port could trigger a port shutdown or a “much more rigorous inspection process” that could negatively impact today’s globally interdependent economy.

“It’s a problem because in this era of globalization, more and more companies depend on just-in-time inventories,” Hormats told Port Security News in a telephone interview.

 “If you can’t get inventories delivered on time, factories have to shut down, and it slows the overall economy,” Hormats added. “And depending on how long it lasts, it could slow it dramatically.”

The fallout from a security-related incident, he added, was not limited to U.S. seaports and their surrounding communities and regional economies, and should be considered a national problem.

“The supply chain impact is not just on the ports,” Hormats said. “It (affects) every factory that depends on those components, every store that depends on the goods coming in to be put on its shelves, and every company that makes goods that have to be exported.

“Those companies are going to be adversely affected, whether they are in Long Beach, or in Baltimore, or in Des Moines.”

The warning came just days after a report that a so-called “dirty bomb” had been smuggled into the country by terrorists targeting Boston sent homeland security officials scrambling to determine the authenticity of the threat, which was later termed a “hoax.”

The large budget and current account imbalances that have emerged over the last four years has meant that the economy may be less able to bounce back in the event of another terrorist outrage, Hormats said.

“If you go back to September 2001, the U.S. first of all had a big budget surplus; now we have a big budget deficit,” said Hormats, who has served as a senior economic advisor to White House National Security Advisors Henry Kissinger, Brent Scowcroft, and Zbigniew Brzezinski, as well as an ambassador and deputy U.S. Trade Representative.

“When you had a surplus, there was more room in the budget to spend money on dealing with the immediate aftermath of 9/11, re-stimulating the economy through tax cuts, and fighting the war in Afghanistan, without major negative impact on the financial markets,” he said.

“The U.S. now is also a lot more dependent on foreign capital than we were at that point, because our current account deficit is a lot bigger,” Hormats noted.

“In that environment, foreign investors who are already nervous about the big budget deficits and the current account deficit, and the dollar, would become perhaps even more nervous about capital inflows into the United States,” he added, “and we might see a reduction of those capital inflows which would have, to the extent it takes place, a disruptive effect on our capital market.”

Hormats noted that a bitter 10-day 2002 labor dispute that shut down West Coast ports cost the U.S. economy “a billion dollars a day, or more” (some estimates put the total figure at more than $15 billion).

After 9/11, U.S. commercial aviation was grounded because “we did not know that there was not going to be another one of these things, with some other airplane,” Hormats said. “But let’s suppose there was an attack on a port, and let’s suppose that it came from a container, then it would be a very different situation,” he said. “People will be very, very cautious about containers coming in for a period of time.

“You would probably have a lengthy period where there would be a shutdown or, if not a shutdown, then a much more rigorous inspection process, which would slow down the entrance of containers into the U.S., which would slow down the deliveries of components and commodities,” Hormats added. “(That) also could have a negative feedback loop on the economy because the economy depends on those things being delivered on time.”

“We have an economy that is very heavily interdependent, internationally and internally,” he noted. “We’re dependent on foreign capital; companies are dependant on deliveries of commodities.”

A terrorist attack on a port, or the threat of one, could wreak havoc on the U.S. supply chain, Hormats said. “Let’s suppose companies have products that they are trying to get to port, and the ships can’t get into the port for a while, then you get large volume backups of inventory sitting on the docks, or sitting in the warehouses, or sitting in trains because they can’t be offloaded.”

Martin Edwin Andersen can be reached via Mick_Andersen@portsecuritynews.com

Copyright © 2005 Port Security News

Port Security News is a trademark of USCongress.org.

Port Security News (Estados Unidos)

 


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