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Look around wherever you happen to be. Just about everything you see or set your hand on spent some time in a cargo container. In fact, according to one estimate, sixty percent of world trade, measured by value, travels in cargo containers. World trade figures include a lot of things that can’t be shipped in a container, like gas, oil, grain, and just about anything you can pump. Take those out and you get an estimate closer to the one in the Economist—90%.
Six months ago, the Shanghai Containerized Freight Index of spot shipping rates was at 1,022. As of Friday, it was close to 3,000. On the latest episode of the “Odd Lots” podcast, we spoke with economist and historian Marc Levinson, the author of “The Box,” a book on the container-shipping revolution. We talked about what’s behind the skyrocketing prices and learned that a key dynamic at play is, even though the U.S. is importing a ton of goods from China, there’s very little flow happening in the opposite direction.
Shipping carriers rejected tons of U.S. agricultural exports, opting to send empty containers to China
hipping carriers rejected U.S. agricultural export containers worth hundreds of millions of dollars during October and November, instead sending empty containers to China to be filled with more profitable Chinese exports, a CNBC investigation found.