China’s policies have been effective in keeping virus cases to a minimum, but at some economic cost.
One of the world’s largest ports, Yantian Port in the southeastern Chinese city of Shenzhen, partially shut down for more than a month from late May through much of June. Shenzhen acted in response to fewer than two dozen coronavirus cases.
When the port fully reopened on June 24, shipping executives and freight forwarders hoped that trade would start returning to normal.
It has not worked out that way.
Dozens of huge container ships fell far behind schedule when they had to wait weeks to dock in Shenzhen. That meant ships later showed up in bunches at ports in other countries, causing further congestion. Chinese export factories also sent goods by truck to alternative ports, like Shanghai’s, leaving them overcrowded as well.
Zhao Chongjiu, China’s deputy minister of transport, defended his country’s tough coronavirus measures. “Everyone knows that during an epidemic, workers in ports must be placed under lockdown, and various countries have taken corresponding measures, so the efficiency of loading and unloading would be reduced,” he said when Yantian reopened.
By mid-June, the freight yard was so crammed with containers at Shanghai’s vast, highly automated Yangshan Deep Water Port that the stacking cranes barely had room to lift containers on and off ships. Dong Haitao, a senior administrator at the adjacent free trade zone, blamed foreign ports for failing to handle arriving containers on time.
“Their schedule of shipments has been disrupted, but not ours,” he said.
Shipping rates for containers have continued to rise steeply in the weeks since Yantian Port reopened. The increase is widely expected to keep going as stores in the United States in particular race to restock shelves for returning shoppers and also start preparing for the Christmas shopping season.