News from the BPA

Global Container Congestion: BPA Statement on calls for an inquiry

The British Ports Association has today responded to calls for a Parliamentary inquiry into global container congestion affecting that is affecting some UK ports.

The British Ports Association has today responded to calls for a Parliamentary inquiry into global container congestion affecting that is affecting some UK ports.

”UK ports are working hard to keep trade flowing and most are managing some unusually high volumes as a result of unprecedented volatility this year. Whilst we appreciate difficulties that some importers have experienced in recent weeks, this is certainly not a systemic issue nor is it unique to the UK. The underlying issues are well understood and there is no case for significant intervention or change to Government policy.

The UK boasts a large number of highly competitive, highly productive ports, many specialising in particular trades or routes. The industry keeps the UK supplied and connected to global markets, and will continue to deliver for the UK as it has throughout the pandemic. Those ports handling containers and lorries are always busy at this time of year, and presently the overwhelming majority are managing increased volumes.

As unitised traffic has grown continuously in recent years, UK ports have been investing in new infrastructure ensuring that there is enough capacity to meet increased volumes and will continue to do so whilst delivering £2bn in tax revenues each year to the UK exchequer.

We are aware that some in the freight sector have seen increases in shipping costs. This is not something the ports sector has any control over and is a challenge for the shipping community.”

This statement is in response to media reports today of a call for a Parliamentary inquiry into port congestion. It can be attributed to Richard Ballantyne, BPA Chief Executive.


What is happening?

• Container ports around the world are dealing with backlogs in containers. UK ports are experiencing particularly high volumes as a result of that combined with additional traffic from stockpiling ahead of the end of the transition period.

Why is this happening?

• BOXES: Containerised trade carries consumer goods and other smaller supplies around the globe. Containers account for approximately 15% of UK port tonnage.

• UNPRECEDENTED VOLATILITY: This is always a busy time of year for the freight industry. Covid-19 has disrupted the usual flow of trade and we are now seeing unprecedented volatility and unpredictable and changing patterns of demand. We are also seeing some existing trends accelerating rapidly such as an increase in e-commerce which is adding to the surge in container shipping demand as many consumer goods are imported from Asia.

• LAGGING SUPPLY AND DEMAND: When the Chinese economy came out of lockdown earlier this year we saw a glut in containers arriving in the UK and Europe but depressed demand, which used up a lot of storage and warehousing space.

• EMPTIES: Contributing further to the congestion is a shortage of empty containers in Asia, needed to carry cargo. When the Chinese economy opened up again earlier this year there was a glut of containers coming in but not many going out as Europe and the UK stayed locked down with exports depressed. The oversupply meant some goods went into storage at the same time as exports were depressed, meaning many thousands of containers ended up on the wrong side of the world. Getting these back where they need to be has added to the pressure of freight rates.

Which ports are affected?

• Container ports around the world, from China to the US and Europe are affected. In the UK, ports handling large volumes are containers are dealing with the knock-on effects of this congestion as well as UK-specific factors.

How will it be resolved?

• Some ports and terminals report that the peak has passed, whilst others are still experiencing significant congestion. Ports are working around the clock to clear the backlog. Industry has written to the Secretary of State for Transport to reassure Government that industry will deal with this issue, although volumes are expected to remain high for several months. The freight and logistics industry has made some specific requests of Government to temporarily speed the flow of freight.