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Market Review: Navigating Through Turbulent Waters: Understanding Today’s Global Trade Disruptions



Mark Glionna

Vice President - Client Relations & Business Development

The current disruptions in global trade caused by geopolitical tensions and environmental challenges have profound implications on carriers and market dynamics. In this article, we will delve into the current situation.

Geopolitical Tensions at Sea

There has been a major disruption caused by geopolitical tensions in the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. The ongoing conflict between Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Israel has prompted attacks leading to carriers rerouting their vessels to avoid the area. While this decision is aimed at ensuring safety, it has resulted in complexities in shipping logistics and schedules.

A map indicating the shortest routes before and after the Suez canal.

Climate Change and Canal Capacities

The second factor affecting global trade operations is the impact of climate change, specifically on the Panama Canal. In an effort to conserve water levels, the Canal’s capacity has been reduced, causing delays for ships or requiring them to seek alternative routes. This environmental challenge adds further complications to the already complex world of global trade.

The Carrier’s Dilemma

Carriers are currently facing a number of challenges. The crucial decision for them is whether to wait for passage through the Panama Canal or detour around the Cape of Good Hope. Each option has its own set of consequences, including longer lead times and the potential for increased port congestion.

To tackle these challenges, carriers are considering several strategies to maintain schedule integrity. These strategies include increasing the speed of vessels, adding more ships to their fleet, or optimizing port rotations to ensure that larger ports are given priority in the service schedule.

A map indicating the shortest routes before and after the Panama canal.

Market Impact and Analyst Predictions

Despite the current crisis, shipping rates are predicted to stay high, but not high enough to cause inflation. This is different from past market conditions, where there was too much supply and the expectation of decreasing freight rates. Now, due to disruptions, there are equipment shortages, particularly in major Chinese ports, and this could potentially extend to other loading ports.

Looking Ahead: Labour Disputes and Rate Increases

Labour disputes in key ports and potential strikes, especially at the Port of Montreal, are further complicating the situation. These challenges in the labour sector might result in more disruptions in port operations and shipping schedules.

Moreover, to reduce the risk of supply chain disruptions, shippers are increasingly opting for West Coast services. This trend is leading to an increase in rates for shipping from Asia to North America. The industry is also expecting significant General Rate Increases (GRI) in February to counter capacity shortages and further congestion.

Air Cargo’s Resilience

It is interesting to note that air cargo has experienced relatively little disruption compared to ocean freight. However, analysts believe that if delays continue, there may be a shift towards more urgent air shipments, although no significant disruptions have been reported yet.

Conclusion: A Period of Adjustment

The logistics industry is facing a major challenge due to the current global trade disruptions which are caused by various geopolitical and environmental factors. As carriers and shippers try to cope with these turbulent times, the market is undergoing a period of adjustment which may take several months to stabilize fully.

Universal Logistics offers customized logistics solutions to meet the challenges of today’s dynamic market. With decades of experience and a focus on innovation, our team of experts provides insights and strategies to ensure your cargo reaches its destination safely and efficiently. If you need reliable logistics support, contact Universal Logistics to discuss how we can help you navigate through these turbulent times.


June 2024

June 5, 2024
, President Biden directed his Trade Representative to increase tariffs under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 on $18 billion worth of imports…

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