Independent journal on economy and transport policy
CENTRO INTERNAZIONALE STUDI CONTAINERS
ANNO XXXVIII - Numero OTTOBRE 2020
CONTAINER SHORTAGES A GROWING PROBLEM FOR US AGRICULTURE
Hapag-Lloyd has dealt a body blow to US shippers of soybeans and
other agriculture exports with its decision to suspend carria-ge of
container shipments of their produce from North America.
The suspension is the result of an acute shortage of containers
in Asia, as boxes have piled up in US warehouses.
The Specialty Soya and Grains Alliance (SSGA) claimed it had
reports that Hapag-Lloyd was acting to move empty containers back to
Asia as fast as possible, without waiting for loads out of North
It attributed the move to "hard economics during a time of
un-precedented demand for higher-value North American consumer
imports by containers from Asia at premium prices".
Eastbound transpacific container rates have been about eight
times the pricing in the opposite direction.
Hapag-Lloyd is still moving some US agriculture exports in
containers, but only shipments that originate in proximity to
gateways. For the vast majority of grain and soybean shippers in the
interior, the container shortage is a massive problem. Expor-ters in
the Midwest have relied on repositioned empty contai-ners.
Most soybean exports are actually carried on bulk vessels, but
containers have been necessary to supply secondary markets that take
smaller volumes. According to trade data firm Panjiva, Ha-pag-Lloyed
moved over 17,000 teu of US soybean shipments between October 2019
and this September. Most to Japan, Indo-nesia, Malaysia, Taiwan,
Hong Kong and South Korea.
Data from the US Department of Commerce show that, in 2019, 9%
of US waterborne grain shipments were moved in containers.
The SSGA has warned that the problem could cause "major
hardships within the entire US agriculture community".
And, according to the Agriculture Transportation Coalition
(ATC), the problem is not hurting only grain shippers, Other
exporters, such as shippers of resin or forest products, have also
faced export restrictions by other lines, but none has made a formal
decision on this, the interest group claimed.
A recent study conducted by the ATC, in tandem with supply chain
technology firm TradeLanes, shows US exporters expe-riencing
additional problems with changes in earliest-return da-tes for
containers. A survey of 283 shippers found 35% of re-spondents had
experienced changes made by container lines to the date that
affected more than half of their shipments.
More than three-quarters (78%) reported that at least 5% of
their shipments impacted by such changes had incurred additional
costs - from demurrage, trucking and warehouse charges to rol-led
cargo and missed sailings.
"Costs and disruptions imposed by inaccurate and changing
earliest return dates for containers are eroding margins," said
ATC executive director Peter Friedman.
The potential loss of business due to a dearth of containers to
ship their produce is a larger headache, though, and Mr Fried-man
expressed concern that Asian importers may switch to other sources
of supply if the problem persisted.
And the signs are ominous: some predictions see the strong flow
of containerised imports to the US continue until Chinese New Year
in February, which suggests the shortage of export boxes could last
just as long.
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