Labor slowdowns and strikes in German and Dutch ports are creating a huge backlog of export containers destined for the US that will take months to get rid of.
According to the bills of lading found by ImportGenius, some of the items exported from these ports are important components of the automotive sector such as lithium batteries, fully assembled cars, as well as a variety of auto parts, and chassis. Mercedes, BMW, and Ford cars have been listed in recent US customs filings.
“US importers need to research four to five weeks in advance to see if a vessel is available,” said Andreas Braun, director of ocean products for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Crane Worldwide Logistics. “It’s not normal. Also, if you’re lucky to book a slot on a ship, you have to locate an empty container that could be in the outback.”
Ikea home decor, flooring and furniture are also included.
“Congestion from these ports extends to other major ports in Europe,” Brown said.
Delays in vessel arrivals, container handling, container availability and trucking are common problems.
According to Sea-Intelligence, which tracks ship schedule reliability, only 30-40% of all global schedules are on time. This congestion will only exacerbate the logistical planning lead time, Brown said.
Unfortunately, transporting empty or full containers from remote areas or in ports is also a problem. Rail congestion due to labor slowdowns and strikes clogged the rails.
“They cannot bring any containers to the port (Hamburg and Bremerhaven) early,” Brown said. “They have to wait seven days before leaving and even then it doesn’t automatically mean it will be loaded onto the ship because the rail yard capacity is high and there is congestion.”
Congestion, which has reduced the availability of containers, is not only a concern for importers, but a noticeable shortage of containers could drive up prices. These costs are transferred to the consumer, which increases inflation.
“Yes, the strikes had a huge impact, but the congestion has built up so much that even if there are no more strikes, the situation will remain chaotic for the next three months,” Brown said. “Some carriers have veered volumes away from German ports to Antwerp and Rotterdam causing increased congestion. This congestion has created a domino effect of delay. Ships leaving Europe for the East Coast of the United States will be late there as well. There is also no catching up.”
Brown told CNBC that once the container arrives on the ship, US importers can expect their containers to arrive seven to nine days late.
German trade union Verdi and the Central Federation of German Ports Companies (ZDS) enter the sixth round of negotiations on Tuesday.
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