Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske paid a visit to the top port in North America for fruit imports.
Kerlikowske joined Delaware U.S. Senator Tom Carper at the port to watch an agricultural inspection and examine the port operations. Carper has a historical connection to the port. He was Delaware’s governor when the state took control of the facility from city of Wilmington via the newly created Diamond State Port Corporation.
The Port of Wilmington is host to nearly 400 vessels every year and handles six million tons of cargo in and out annually. It is North America’s largest importer of fresh fruit, bananas, and juice concentrate. Dole and Chiquita use the port as their East Coast hub, supplying fruit to Canada and as far west as the Mississippi River.
Kerlikowske took the helm of the Customs and Border Protection in March 2014. He leads the 60,000-employee agency with a budget of $12.4 billion. While CBP’s activities along the U.S./Mexico border gets the bulk of attention, insuring that what’s imported through U.S. ports is safe is also an important role for the agency.
“I’ve traveled all over the United States and all over the world,” Kerlikowske said in a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington earlier this year. “I’ve gotten to see first-hand how integral our mission is to the nation’s economic health and vitality as well as to the safety and security of our global supply chain.”
For Fiscal Year 2014, CBP cleared $2.5 trillion in imports and $1.6 trillion in exports. The agency processed 26 million cargo containers, an increase of 4 percent over 2013. Those numbers are expected to continue rising this year and in the years to come.
That’s good news for Carper and leaders at the Port of Wilmington. Earlier this year, the Diamond State Port Corporation approved a major overhaul of a nearly 100-year-old cargo berth at the port. The $9.8 million project to rebuild Berth 5 will restore 605 feet of the port’s original wharf, which was at risk of falling into the river. The project will also extend heavy-load track needed to make expanded waterside areas accessible to rail-mounted cranes.