Fueled by the demand for alcohol and luxury cars, European imports have undergone a double-digit increase at Southern California ports in the last three years, officials said.
The total dollar value of imports from Western Europe grew by 18% from 1998 to 1999 and an additional 13.6% in 2000, according to the most recent statistics provided by the two ports.
The total value of European imports reached $6.7 billion in 2000.
That still doesn't rival the $165.5 billion in imports from East Asia at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, the nation's largest. But it did influence the way the ports and some shipping companies do business.
"There are several [shipping] headquarters for major decision makers on the European Continent," said Julia Nagano, spokeswoman for the Port of Los Angeles. "Maersk is in Copenhagen, for example. And so it is good for long-term business relationships."
Maersk Sealand has agreed to move from Long Beach to the larger Pier 400 complex at the Port of Los Angeles. The Danish shipper has signed a 25-year lease that could yield $2 billion in revenue for its new landlord once Maersk moves next July.
The increased shipments of mostly alcohol, automobiles and granite offered a window into West Coast spending during the economic boom that began to slow last year.
At a time when technology stocks were soaring and dot-coms were raising millions of dollars in venture capital, the imported alcohol flowed and the luxury cars rolled, said Jack Kyser, chief economist at the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp.
"Everybody was happy," Kyser said. "This year, what you are seeing is that most people are singing the blues."