When a terminal at the Port of Ningbo in eastern China temporarily closed in mid-August because of a COVID-19 outbreak, it was the latest link in a chain of painful events for ports, the ocean carriers that serve them, and the shippers whose businesses rely on the steady flow of goods. In North America, especially, the container shipping system has maxed out its capacity, and there are growing signs that it will only get messier in the near and mid-term as monthly cargo volumes have increased by double digits since August 2020 show no signs of letting up.
With the pre-holiday peak shipping season in full swing, and shippers struggling to find any space on ships at Asian origins, ports and terminal operators are facing some of the worst congestion in recent memory. How the ports handle the surge will have a direct impact on product availability, and some shippers are concerned about shortages coming this fall. “Inefficient port operations have a very direct impact on supplies across the country and their populations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw port delays causing shortages of essential goods and higher prices,” Turloch Mooney, an associate director with the maritime and trade division of IHS Markit, the parent company of The Journal of Commerce, said recently.
In the long term, cargo bottlenecks can slow economic growth, producing higher costs for importers exporters and putting downward pressure on employment, he said. How well ports and terminals handle cargo surges can be based on historical precedent, as borne out by IHS Markit port productivity data and its new Container Port Performance Index, developed in partnership with the World Bank. Asia ports, for example, have been the most efficient during the most recent cargo surge, with Yokohama, Japan, the top-ranked port on the index. Conversely, Halifax is the only North American port to crack the Top 50, coming in at 39th in terms of total hours spent in port, cross-referenced with the volumes loaded/unloaded.
This webcast will analyze the latest surge ports are confronting, how long the surge might last, what ports in what regions are handling it best, and why.
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