Chain Reaction Podcast Where’s My Box?

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Miquel Serracanta Domenech asked me a question last week about my thoughts on the disruptions in global shipping following disruption at Yantian and other ports in China due to Covid 19. A supplementary question was what will the new normal look like? Many businesses are asking the question: Where is my box? This got me thinking more about the problems currently being experienced by many businesses who want to import or export their goods and the knock on effect it has on global supply chains. In this article I want to examine global sea trade carried by containers in a little more detail.

 Things are desperate for some businesses attempting to book containers to move their imports and exports. Reports of price increases as much as five times higher than a year ago for containers between Chinese ports and the UK with average box prices up by 400 per cent. Similar price increases are being experienced in the EU and in the United States. The main reasons given by shippers and logistic firms is that there is a box shortage and yet there are now more boxes in the world than ever according to the statistics held by UNCTAD, World Shipping Council and the large shippers operating in these markets. So where are they? Where's my box? Another reason given is that boxes are in the wrong places and the shippers have not been able to move as many empty boxes to the return ports as they would in normal times. Demand for boxes is also said to be higher than normal. While these reasons are plausible it is also clear that the profits earned by the largest players are increasing despite Covid 19. So is it the case that these large businesses dominating the global sea trade have seen an opportunity to clawback some profit by fixing higher prices through a quasi cartel? 

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