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Under Armour, shipper CMA CGM both announce return to port of Baltimore

Under Armour apparel products manufactured abroad will arrive at the port of Baltimore next month for the first time in eight years under a newly signed contract with the Evergreen shipping line.

The deal was disclosed Tuesday by Chris Sichette, Under Armour's director of global trade compliance, during a meeting at the port between local business leaders, port officials and U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials, including CBP Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske.

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The French shipping line CMA CGM also announced its pending return to Baltimore on Tuesday, just as the Maryland Port Administration released figures showing that March set new monthly records for container cargo and overall cargo tonnage handled at the port.

"When the Port succeeds, Maryland succeeds," Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement on the growth. "This record-setting performance helps grow the state's economy and demonstrates that the Port of Baltimore is one of the most efficient and productive ports in the country."

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The port is responsible for about 14,600 direct jobs, $3 billion in personal wages and salaries, and more than $300 million in state and local tax revenues, according to the port administration.

Under Armour is based in Baltimore but manufactures its products in 28 different countries and has long fed its Baltimore distribution center with air and ground cargo deliveries from other U.S. ports, including Miami and Long Beach, Calif. It also imports products through Newark, N.J.

It hasn't imported products directly into Baltimore since it built a large distribution center near Long Beach eight years ago, Sichette said.

However, the company started considering ways to diversify its U.S. distribution and returned its gaze to the local port last year, when Baltimore-bound cargo shipments from Asia began getting delayed in Long Beach during a prolonged labor dispute between West Coast dockworkers and shipping companies, Sichette said.

Because the company's headquarters is in Baltimore, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank was bullish on the idea of bringing some operations back to the local port, Sichette said.

"Kevin Plank is very pro-Maryland, likes to support Maryland jobs," she said, without providing financials or employment figures from the deal. "This will just support our footprint in the state."

Under the deal, Under Armour will begin importing cargo containers via Evergreen ships from Shanghai directly to Baltimore instead of Long Beach, Sichette said. The cargo will then be transported by truck from the port to the Baltimore distribution center on Fort Smallwood Road.

The South Baltimore distribution center provides the "auto-replacement" of stock items for big-box retailers in the region and fills individual orders made directly with the company online, Sichette said.

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Shipping cargo from Shanghai to Long Beach and then transporting it across country to Baltimore had taken about 27 days, Sichette said. Shipping it directly from Shanghai to Baltimore will take about the same amount of time, she said.

Evergreen did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Under Armour is also considering making Baltimore the destination for six other Asian and Middle East delivery routes to the U.S. — including from Turkey using Mediterranean Shipping Co. — but has not signed any other deals, Sichette said.

"Shanghai is the first one we're trying," she said.

The first apparel is expected to arrive in Baltimore's port in late June, she said.

Also Tuesday, the shipping company CMA CGM announced it would begin calling on the port of Baltimore this week, after adding the port to its Liberty Solo service between Europe and North America.

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The container cargo service will call on ports in the Netherlands, Germany and France before crossing the Atlantic for calls in New York, Baltimore and Charleston, S.C.

"CMA-CGM is one of the largest container shipping companies in the world," Richard Scher, an MPA spokesman, said of the new service. "We are very happy to have them at the Port of Baltimore."

The company last called on Baltimore's port under a joint weekly service with China Shipping Container Lines that was halted in 2008. At the time, the volume of container cargo moving through Baltimore was declining.

Today the opposite is true, according to the port administration, which said Tuesday it broke two cargo records in March: for tonnage moved and for container cargo. The port handled 913,139 total tons of cargo and 49,971 cargo containers that month, the MPA said.

Marc Bourdon, president of CMA CGM America, said the addition of Baltimore to the company's Liberty Solo service will make it "better placed to capitalize on the strengthening of the U.S. economy and continued growth in trans-Atlantic trade."

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Kerlikowske, in town to tour the port, expressed his desire to work with business partners there to ensure smooth operations.

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The meeting came as Congress considers a measure that would give the President Barack Obama fast-track authority to move forward with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a trade deal the U.S. is negotiating with 11 other Pacific Rim nations.

The Senate passed the measure, but the House has not.

Kerlikowske said CBP officials are working closely with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to understand the TPP and the effects it might have on CBP's work, but declined to comment further, including on how the deal might affect the port of Baltimore.

Dave Thomas, the port's director of operations, also declined to comment on the trade deal, saying it would be "a little premature" to do so.

krector@baltsun.com

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