China’s policies have been effective in keeping virus cases to a minimum, but at an economic cost.
One of the largest ports in the world, Yantian Port in the southeast China city of Shenzhen, was partially closed from late May to much of June. Shenzhen responded to fewer than two dozen coronavirus cases.
When the port fully reopened on June 24, shipowners and shippers hoped that trade would return to normal.
It didn’t work out that way.
Dozens of giant container ships lagged far behind schedule as they had to wait weeks to dock in Shenzhen. This meant that ships later appeared in bundles in ports in other countries, which led to further congestion. Chinese export factories also trucked goods to alternative ports such as Shanghai, which also made them overcrowded.
China’s Deputy Transport Minister Zhao Chongjiu defended his country’s strict coronavirus measures. “Everyone knows that workers must be locked in ports during an epidemic, and various countries have taken measures that would reduce the efficiency of loading and unloading,” he said at the Yantian reopening.
In mid-June, the freight yard in the huge, highly automated Yangshan Deep Water Port in Shanghai was so crammed with containers that the stacking cranes hardly had space to lift containers on and off ships. Dong Haitao, a senior administrator of the adjoining free trade zone, accused foreign ports of not handling incoming containers on time.
“Your shipping schedule was disrupted, but not ours,” he said.
Container freight rates have risen sharply in the weeks since the port of Yantian reopened. The spike is widely expected to continue as stores in the United States in particular replenish shelves for repeat shoppers and prepare for the Christmas shopping season.