The congestion continues at U.S. ports, making it hard for agricultural commodities to get shipped to overseas customers. Ray Bowman of California is an international trade consultant and chairs the District Export Council of Southern California. He says the logjam at American ports didn’t happen overnight.
“There’s this perception that it kind of happened overnight, but a lot of the container congestion is something that was a long time coming. We’ve had a lot of these problems that we’re experiencing now, we’ve had for quite some time. When you start spiking the purchasing behavior as we’ve experienced, there’s a point at which a system just can’t handle it. I’d like to say this has gotten better for exporters, but I’m just not hearing that.”
Bowman says ships are returning to overseas ports empty because the shipping companies make a lot more money carrying goods into the U.S. than they would by returning with cargo. “They make so much money on the inbound side, they’re staging more on the inbound side than they are on the outgoing side, and they’re positioning their containers to handle that outbound cargo. They’re making far less money on that export side, right, so they’re leaning their business models to where they make the most money. So, what I’ve seen is that exporters have an even tougher time.”
Even if export companies have a ship to carry their goods, finding empty containers can be almost impossible at times.
“We’re still dealing with container shortages. So, the pool of containers is not such that we’re getting a hold of the containers that we need to stage the cargo, and that’s a big problem. I think warehousing in America is close to something like only three percent availability in America’s warehousing. That’s close to the full capacity of all warehouses. When that happens, there’s no place to offload containers, which means that makes a container shortage even worse, because you have to be empty containers to make them available.”
Bowman also directs the Small Business Development Center of Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in California. He says the ports can make it hard on truckers to offload their goods.
“What happens, too, is what a lot of truckers experience is their terminals that want what they call dual transactions. In other words, if you have a container to drop off, then you better have one to pick up. And, on paper, it helps with productivity. But if you don’t have that, then that’s a problem, and you got to look for that.”