China’s Shanghai lockdowns have California ports bracing for shipping chaos, supply-chain ‘hiccups’

Date: Tuesday, April 19, 2022
Source: SCMP

Nine elongated black ships loomed against the backdrop of a pinkish-orange sunset over San Francisco Bay on a recent weeknight.

There they waited, as freighters have been forced to moor mid-bay amid congestion at Bay Area seaports that has snarled shipping.

The scene, rife with uncertainties, could become increasingly familiar as lockdowns in Shanghai, home to the world’s largest container port, have prompted marine shipping lines to change course as they struggle to access a major cargo hub that is so closely tied to China’s huge manufacturing centres.

Two years of supply-chain disruptions caused by the pandemic had already backed up ships in San Francisco Bay.

Shanghai’s lockdowns have not yet had an impact on the bayside Port of Oakland, which took steps over the past two years to mitigate disruptions.

The port, which handled 2.44 million 20-foot-equivalent units last year, has brought on 950 casual longshore workers to help process cargo ships, so those waiting in the bay can be serviced faster, said Andrew Huang, the port’s manager of business development and international marketing.

“They’re ready, and they continue to be ready every day,” Huang said.

A new wave of marine shipping chaos looms as one obvious cross-border impact of the phased Shanghai lockdowns that began in late March and followed the shuttering of tech centre Shenzhen.

Economists expect the lockdowns, if they persist, to exacerbate inflation overseas, slow the pace of exports shipped from the “world’s factory”, and weaken demand in the world’s largest consumer market.

“The more severe it gets, the more impacts will be pronounced,” said Liang Yan, chair of economics at Willamette University in the US state of Oregon. “These transport and supply-chain disruptions are going to feed into the global supply-chain problem and the US’.”

Slowdowns at the Shanghai port will delay shipments, in turn making goods harder to get or raising their prices, Liang said. She anticipated supply-chain “hiccups” in electronics, motor vehicles and pharmaceuticals. China was the world’s biggest exporter of manufactured goods from 1978 to 2020, accounting for 14.7 per cent of the global total, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

In March, China’s imports of crude oil fell 14 per cent, and copper imports dropped 8 per cent, pointing to weaker factory orders, she added.

The surge in homebound factory workers is striking at the heart of production in Shanghai, analysts say. Labour and transport disruptions mean operators can “only rely on on-site inventory to barely meet the needs of production lines”, Taipei-based market research firm TrendForce said in an April 11 research note.

All or parts of the local BMW, Tesla and Volkswagen auto factories remain closed in the Shanghai area, according to Chinese media reports. Taiwanese electronics assembler Pegatron, which takes orders from Apple and others, also suspended production at its Shanghai plant.

Demand for imports in China is slipping, Liang said, noting people who have been ordered to stay home can barely even get daily necessities.

Further weakening of demand would affect China-bound exporters based in other Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea, said Rajiv Biswas, Asia-Pacific chief economist with IHS Markit in Singapore. The Chinese market for components, fuel and raw materials shipped from abroad for manufacturing could shrink too, he said.

“So far, I would say the impact is probably moderate, but it really depends on how long these things continue,” Biswas said. “We have to see how this plays out over the next few weeks, because obviously the cases have risen in China to levels we haven’t seen since early 2020.”

The latest supply-chain hitches compound those left over from 2021, Biswas said.

Japan normally sends exports worth US$134.7 billion per year to China with a partner share of 19.1 per cent, the World Bank says. The value of goods exported from South Korea reached about US$136.2 billion with a 25.1 per cent partner share. Japan ships vehicles and electronics; Korea exports both, as well as machinery.

The impact on any major importer in China is going to be “very obvious”, especially for motor vehicles and machinery, said Alicia Garcia Herrero, chief Asia-Pacific economist with French investment bank Natixis.

On the marine shipping front, 222 bulk carriers were waiting off Shanghai as of April 11, 15 per cent more than a month earlier, Bloomberg shipping data show. The port remains open, but Chinese truckers are barred from leaving the city for deliveries.

“The pandemic has caused longer vessel operation time than normal at various ports,” Taiwan-based shipping giant Evergreen Marine told the Post in a statement last week.

“Due to Covid-19, we have seen cargo volumes affected by operational restrictions such as limited trucking services in recent days,” it said. “China remains a key player in global supply chains, and an important market for international shipping companies, including Evergreen Line.”

Danish shipping giant Maersk has found longer wait times around Shanghai’s Waigaoqiao port area, and all warehouse operations are closed until further notice, the company said on Wednesday.

“The efficiency of Maersk trucking services from and to Shanghai has been further impacted due to the lockdown, but we are providing multi-modal services via barge and rail as alternative solutions between Shanghai and nearby cities,” it said.

French marine shipper CMA CGM has responded by loading more cargo at other ports in China outside Shanghai and elsewhere in Asia, CMA CGM Group said in a statement to the Post.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs expects little long-term impact on the global economy.

“I want to reiterate that the fundamentals sustaining China’s sound economic growth, in the long run, have not changed. China’s status as a vital locomotive for global economic growth has not changed. And the confidence of the international community in China’s economy has not changed,” ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular news conference on April 12.

“We are ready to strengthen cooperation with all parties as always to inject impetus into the sustained recovery of the world economy.”

[Read from the original source.]