From beer to flat-pack furniture, Suez blockage offers a global trade snapshot

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The bottleneck created when the Ever Given container ship got stuck in the Suez Canal stranded shipments from auto parts and dairy products to beer and luxury goods on their way to markets in Europe, the U.S. and Asia.

Maritime tracking data shows the cargo snared by last month’s blockage as a snapshot of global trade that is usually in constant motion. The varied goods in the containers illustrate the far-flung nature of modern supply chains and show how transportation problems on one side of the world can affect the production of goods and store inventories thousands of miles away.

Shipments delayed by the Ever Given included dozens of containers from Asia loaded with products for flat-pack furniture giant IKEA as well as some Europe-bound apparel shipments for Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein-owner PVH Corp., according to the companies. The crisis also slowed some shipments bound for U.S. East Coast ports such as industrial machinery and auto parts.

Vessels backed up at either end of the Suez during the blockage carried the equivalent of at least 66,480 containers of cargo delayed by the crisis, with shipments of household goods and personal products from Asia and India to Europe and the U.S. accounting for nearly one-third of the volume, according to an analysis by supply-chain software provider E2open LLC.

All containers in the assessment are in 20-foot equivalent units, or TEUs, a standard maritime industry measure for shipments

The shipments included common goods such as the consumer products made in China along with the equivalents of more than 11,000 20-foot containers, hauling wastepaper from the U.S. to India, more than 1,600 boxes holding automotive parts heading from Germany to China and 641 containers packed with beer from the Netherlands—the brands unnamed—on their way to China.

Those figures reflect delayed shipments as of April 1 for the slice of ocean cargo tracked by E2open’s Inttra shipping platform, which connects shipping lines, shippers and freight forwarders. The platform handles bookings for about 26% of global ocean freight and provides visibility on the movement of about 40% of such shipments.

As of April 1, delayed cargo tracked by E2open included the equivalents of 1,863 20-foot containers of department-store merchandise en route to the U.S. from China and 1,519 containers of logs and lumber products headed from Belgium to China.

The Suez blockage also held up 362 20-foot containers of Indian pharmaceutical exports to the U.S., along with 570 of furniture and 476 of granite products. Those delays could potentially hamper drug production or slow construction in the red-hot U.S. housing market, said Pawan Joshi, executive vice president of products and strategy at Austin, Texas-based E2open.

“We see a lot of machinery and industrial parts heading from China and India to places like France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom,” Mr. Joshi said. “We have also seen a lot of fresh produce heading the other way, from Europe to Asia… [and] roughly 10 million cases of beer, 250 million bottles held up.”

The traffic jam on the waterway has been cleared, according to Suez Canal authorities, but many shipments are set to arrive at their destinations between one to three weeks behind schedule. Industry executives warn that the late arrivals could trigger logjams at congested European ports including Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Antwerp, Belgium, potentially disrupting supply chains for months.

Those ports and many others around the world were already jammed because supply chains have been thrown out of balance during the pandemic.

During the week of March 21, the week the Ever Given got stuck, late shipments of retail goods rose by 11% compared with the previous week while late consumer packaged goods shipments increased by 6%, according to freight-tracking software provider FourKites Inc. Delayed manufacturing shipments were up 7% that week.

The crisis in the Suez came as California’s ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach had been struggling for months with lengthy delays, with some ships waiting offshore for up to two weeks for berth space at the key U.S. gateways. That backup swelled to about 40 container ships at one point, and 28 were anchored off the coast on Sunday, according to the Marine Exchange of Southern California.

So shippers moving goods from Asia to the U.S. had already been seeking alternate routes to avoid the two choke points, heading either to other West Coast ports or the Panama Canal, said Glenn Koepke, FourKites’s senior vice president of customer success.

“The U.S. market was already a challenge,” he said.

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