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North America responsible for container shortages

21 April 2021

The continent’s comparatively slow handling of containers has long been a source of supply chain pain and a leading cause of empty container shortages in Asia, but never to the extent recorded today.

Before the pandemic, North America was structurally responsible for 40-45% of the empty imbalance needed in Asia, according to analysis from Sea-Intelligence. Following the early pandemic volatility, this changed sharply, so that North America is now structurally responsible for 55-60% of the imbalance in Asia.

Sea-Intelligence warned in its latest weekly report that the structural supply chain imbalances related to empty containers are not approaching normalization.

“The imbalance problem now needs to be rectified through North America – which at the same time is the place with the worst port congestion problems, which slows down efforts to repatriate containers,” the report from Sea-Intelligence stated.

Speaking at TPM, the world’s top container shipping event, organized by the Journal of Commerce, Vincent Clerc, the CEO of A.P. Moller-Maersk Ocean & Logistics, the world’s largest container line, said the underinvestment along the coastline of North America was a critical part of today’s backed-up box crisis.

US regulator, the Federal Maritime Commission, is looking into the issue of equipment availability as part of a wide-ranging investigation into the supply chain chaos that has hit the nation’s ports, retailers, and exporters over the past eight months.

Latest data from PIERS, which tracks US imports and exports, shows container volumes from Asia to the US grew 90% in March compared to March 2020. Even when comparing March 2021’s figure to the pre-pandemic March 2019, the volume growth is up by a record 57%.

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