Handling in important ports: Even impatient ships are causing a shortage of goods

Shoes, furniture, electronic devices – many consumer goods currently take forever from the factory in Asia to European stores. In some cases almost twice as long as before the Corona crisis. The problem is the shipping traffic, says an economist in the ntv podcast “Wieder was learned”.

CO2, truck driver, toys, natural gas, wind, Books, Clowns, Coffee, freight containers, vaccinated people and of course computer chips for cars, consoles and other electronics. The global supply chain is sagging, it feels like there is a shortage of goods everywhere. “A situation that has never been seen before,” says Wan-Hsin Liu from the Institute for World Economy in Kiel. “Because there has never been a crisis like the Corona crisis.”

The economist names shipping as the main cause of the problems, closed ports in China send shock waves around the world. “The youngest were in May and August,” says Liu. “In May, Yantian near Shenzhen was affected, where mainly electronic products such as cell phones, computers and so on are produced and shipped to the world.”

China is the world’s factory. The smartphone, clothing, furniture and machines – everything is put together in the Middle Kingdom and sent from there to Europe or North America. Preferably at sea, seven of the ten largest container ports in the world are located on the Chinese coast. After the collapse of the global economy in the first Corona year, they currently have to meet increased demand. If individual terminals are then closed due to a corona outbreak, nothing works anymore. The cargo ships are stuck in traffic in front of or in the ports and have to wait.

“Change of plan messes everything up”

Actually, because many captains do what almost everyone does when they are stuck in a traffic jam: They try to avoid the problem and hope that it will help them move forward faster. For shipping, this means that the freighters simply head for other ports.

For example in August when the port of Ningbo-Zhoushan was hit by a corona outbreak. “It’s near Shanghai,” says the trade expert. Some shipping companies then brought their goods to the Chinese metropolis by train or truck. “It also has a port, but of course every port has its capacity and that is usually already being used to capacity. And if it is already being used to capacity, this change in plan will mess everything up.”

Dr. Wan-Hsin Liu primarily examines the development and consequences of direct investment and global supply chains with a focus on China.

(Photo: IfW)

It’s like the train, explains the economist. If a train gets stuck in the station, the entire timetable gets mixed up. “The ships that suddenly head for another port don’t just need a landing stage. The port operator also has to withdraw staff from other ships in order to load the containers and check papers and so on. Other freighters look into the tube: they cannot be processed by the pusher and are also delayed.

Two out of three German companies are waiting

“If you first have to wait eight days in Korea, then a week in China and then a few more days in Singapore – and then you can’t go any further before Rotterdam, you will of course never get the ship back in time,” says Rolf Hansen, the head of the shipping company Hapag Lloyd, described the problem in September. It is inevitable that you have to skip one or the other port or even a whole trip – and thus leave many products at the other end of the world.


In the port of Taicang in the east of China, large areas of disinfection will also be carried out in October 2021.

(Photo: picture alliance / Finn / Costfoto)

It is a spiral that has led to two out of three German manufacturing companies now saying: Bottlenecks are hindering our production. That has a Survey by the ifo Institute for the World Economy result. The auto industry suffers the most. The situation is similar for mechanical engineers and the chemical industry. Even a third of the beverage industry says it is affected. “The delivery bottlenecks are a cross-industry problem,” says economist Liu. “Sometimes more sometimes less.”

Christmas shopping time? now

End consumers notice the crisis, among other things, because new sneakers from Nike currently need 80 days to make it from the factory in Asia to a shoe store in the USA or Europe – and with that twice as long like before the Corona crisis. Or the fact that Amazon is already switching the first Black Friday-like offers – so that you can enjoy holidays like Thanksgiving and the pre-Christmas season in a relaxed manner, like Amazon writes. So that the ordered goods arrive in time for the actual Black Friday in six weeks – on November 26th – at the customers, presume American media.

If you don’t want to stand empty-handed at Christmas, you should think about what to get for your loved ones today rather than tomorrow. Because new shocks are possible at any time.

“A lot depends on the pandemic,” says trade expert Liu. “We see it in Germany, the measures have become looser due to the high vaccination rate. But China has one Zero tolerance policy. That said, a single Corona case can theoretically lead to them closing certain ports, certain areas and factories. “

China relies on the hammer

After other Pacific states like Australia, New Zealand and Singapore were forced by the Delta variant to abandon their zero-Covid strategy, this is China only remaining land, which fights even the smallest outbreaks with a hammer – even though three quarters of the population are fully vaccinated. Only when Beijing abandons this strategy can shipping go back to plan.

The good news is: Experts like Wan-Hsin Liu believe the worst is over and the situation will slowly but surely ease. Because the more people around the world are vaccinated, the less likely major outbreaks and new lockdowns are. Hapag-Lloyd boss Habben Jansen assumes that the situation will have normalized in February.

But that’s no help for Christmas. If you don’t want to be left empty-handed, it’s best to ask for a wish list.

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