Throughout 2020 and into 2021, too many empty containers in global shipping caused a great crisis in world trade.
The issue of empty containers began to be used as a strategic power between countries. The balances within the global supply chain were altered by the empty container crisis, as more and more trade wars took hold among countries.
The container shortage led to a global trade war during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, with a domino effect that started in China. While factories were shutting down one-by-one all over the world, China restarted production within two months of the start of the pandemic. China became a candidate to export to the whole world alone.
The empty container supply problem increased not only freight rates but also manufacturing costs. Container shortages and space problems caused logistics processes to be disrupted in many countries.
China had an advantage from day one of the global trade war.
The coronavirus started first in China, which led China to determine its COVID-19 plans at an early stage while most countries restricted all their economic activities from April to June 2020. China managed to control the coronavirus much earlier than any other country.
Exports resumed when Chinese manufacturers started production. The fact that China, the world’s largest exporter, managed the coronavirus fast and resumed production earlier compared to other countries led to an increase in exports from China.
Every manufacturing country needed empty containers back fast to maintain its exports. For this reason, they put pressure on the ocean carriers. Ocean carriers were thinking about profitability and positioned empty containers where it was more profitable – for them.
The problem is not likely to go away soon.
The empty container positioning problem will extend further and ocean lines will not be very enthusiastic to return to normal due to their high profitability right now. If the ocean carriers’ insistence on empty containers continues, the adverse situation created by rising prices is expected to create serious pressures on the overall market.
There’s no doubt that empty container availability will be an important economic effect on world trade.