'Unceasing congestion': China's shipping delays snarl trade

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The delays at Yantian Port are further snarling trade routes and lifting record freight prices even higher.
The delays at Yantian Port, one of China's busiest ports, are further snarling trade routes and lifting record freight prices even higher.

The global shipping industry, already exhausted by pandemic shocks that are adding to inflation pressures and delivery delays, faces the biggest test of its stamina yet.

When one of China's busiest ports announced it wouldn't accept new export containers in late-May because of a Covid-19 outbreak, it was supposed to be up and running again in a few days. But as the partial shutdown drags on, it's further snarling trade routes and lifting record freight prices even higher.

Yantian Port now says it will be back to normal by the end of June, but just as it took several weeks for ship schedules and supply chains to recover from the vessel blocking the Suez Canal in March, it may take months for the cargo backlog in southern China to clear while the fallout ripples to ports worldwide.

"The trend is worrying, and unceasing congestion is becoming a global problem," A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S, the world's No. 1 container carrier, said in a statement Thursday.

The situation in South China is another "in a string of disasters we've seen plague the global supply chain," according to Nerijus Poskus, vice president of ocean strategy and carrier development for Flexport Inc., which makes software that helps companies manage their supply chains.

He estimated the congestion in Yantian will take six to eight weeks to clear.

That timetable is a problem because it extends the disruptions into the late-summer period of peak demand from the U.S. and Europe, where retailers and other importers restock warehouses ahead of the year-end holiday shopping rush.

Usually cheap and invisible to companies and consumers, ocean freight that's now more expensive than ever has become a double-edged threat to the world economy: by acting as both a drag on…
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