There aren’t enough containers to keep world trade flowing

Crane Lifting Container In Shipping Yard

A shipping container shortage that’s left everything from Thai curry to Canadian peas idling in ports may be about to get a whole lot worse as China steps up its coronavirus precautions on incoming vessels.

Unloading holdups in China and delays on the return of vessels when the outbreak was largely limited to Asia has left shippers waiting for hundreds of thousands of containers to move their products. But as the disease goes global, the port of Fuzhou is starting to quarantine incoming ships from countries including the U.S. for 14 days. That threatens to exacerbate the container crunch.

“That’s millions of tons of capacity that’s wiped off the board,” said Greg Cherewyk, president of Pulse Canada, Winnipeg, Manitoba-based industry group that represents the nation’s growers, traders and processors of pulses like peas and lentils. “An industry like ours, we depend on containers.”

Containers bringing consumer goods from Asia are normally unloaded with goods then filled with exports of other commodities. Brazil usually ships meat, pulp and coffee in containers to China, a journey that takes a month each way, while Canada uses them to ship everything from specialty crops to lumber, plywood and paper.

The availability of cargo containers at Hamburg, Rotterdam and Antwerp in Europe and Long Beach and Los Angeles in the U.S. are at the lowest levels recorded, according to a Bloomberg report. Imports to the port of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which have a 35% share of containers coming into the U.S., fell as much as 13% in the first two months of the first quarter, Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Lee Klaskow said Wednesday in a report. International volume could begin to increase as Chinese exports pick up, he said.