After around two months of stagnation, Chinese gateways are finding their moorings again, whereas the US and EU ports are having tough times coping with the pandemic.

The massive containers at docks in China has left a big shortfall in cargo at ports in the US and Europe since early February, as well as created a shortage of empty containers that Western exporters need, to ship everything from farm products to electronic parts. As China’s ports are starting to push out thousands of containers that were stranded since the onset of the coronavirus outbreak, Western ports are in tizzy that they won’t be able to handle a flood of imports owing to the shutdown of their own seaports and coastal cities.

China government figures show container volumes at the country’s largest eight ports fell 19.8% in February, during the peak of the lockdowns that Beijing imposed, from the year before. Container volumes from China into California’s three largest seaports—Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland—were off 35.2% in February from a year ago, according to trade data research group Panjiva. The neighbouring ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which together make up the largest US gateway for imports from Asia, handled 132,564 fewer containers in February than they did the same month a year ago.

Last week, on Thursday, the Port of Houston said that it has suspended operations at its two main container terminals after a staffer who works at both sites tested positive for the coronavirus. Gene Seroka, Executive Director at the Port of Los Angeles, echoed he doesn’t expect the same sort of virus disruptions that crippled Chinese mega ports like Shanghai and Ningbo last month.

Container lines asserted that they would deploy their biggest ships to pick up cargo from China, regardless of the situation at Western entry points. The alliance of A P Moller-Maersk A/S and Mediterranean Shipping Co said last week they are boosting their capacity of four weekly sailings to Los Angeles and Long Beach.

MSC sent one of its biggest ships—the MSC Oscar, with capacity for 23,000 20-foot containers—into Los Angeles on Sunday, and three other big vessels are expected to arrive by the end of March. These giants are normally on the Europe-Asia trade lanes, and their deployment in the Pacific points to increased trade activity.


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