“I’ve Never Seen Anything Like This”: Chaos Strikes Global Shipping
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“I’ve Never Seen Anything Like This”: Chaos Strikes Global Shipping

The pandemic has disrupted international trade, driving up the cost of shipping goods and adding a fresh challenge to the global economic recovery.

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Why hasn’t Peloton delivered your stationary bike? Probably it’s late because of the extreme backlog in international cargo shipping – and the mixed up allocation of containers – caused by COVID-19. On March 6, 2021, New York Times reporters Peter S. Goodman, Alexandra Stevenson, Niraj Chokshi and Michael Corkery revealed the up-and-down chaos underlying the seemingly small 1% drop in international shipping from 2019 to 2020. As 2020 ended, US consumers bought double the usual amount of exercise gear, most of which comes on container ships from Asia. While the vaccine may alleviate some pandemic-related issues, other challenges remain at sea

Summary

Containers are at the hub of the chaos the pandemic has wrought in international shipping.

Containers, introduced in 1956, significantly changed product transportation and enabled a more global economy. Now, they are at the core of a crisis in international shipping.

Business ups and downs due to the pandemic have caused significant maritime delays and traffic jams internationally, even as shipping demand dropped only 1% from 2019 to 2020. The fact hidden in that number is that demand dropped more than 12% in the spring of 2020, and then surged upward in the third and fourth quarters.

However, some of the containers needed to ship goods from Asia to the United States remain stuck in US ports, full of unloaded cargo. More than 24 full container ships holding bikes, electronics and other imports await unloading near Los Angeles.

As Americans’ spending habits changed during the pandemic from buying experiences to purchasing at-home products, shipments of exercise equipment –mostly from Chinese manufacturers – increased by more than double at the end of 2020...

About the Authors

New York Times reporter Peter S. Goodman covers European economics from London. Alexandra Stevenson reports on Chinese business from Hong Kong. Niraj Chokshi reports on transportation and Michael Corkery covers the retail industry.


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