A “big mess” is how Paul Jarzombek of LR International describes the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on international agricultural trade. There’s likely light at the end of the tunnel but it will depend on what happens with the virus and public-health guidance moving forward, he said. Jarzombek is the Chief Operating Officer of LR International, a global freight-forwarding company based in Chicago.
COVID-19 is disrupting many aspects of the U.S. agriculture-supply chain. For example some ports have needed to temporarily suspend shipments due to viral outbreaks. Agricultural exporters, primarily those west of Chicago, also have struggled to find shipping containers, said Eric Wenberg, executive director of the Specialty Soya and Grains Alliance based in Mankato, Minnesota.
Due to a steep decline in U.S. imports during COVID-19 there has been a decrease in cargo-ship sailings from Asia and other regions. “Blank” or canceled sailings means reduced supply of inbound cargo containers. So U.S. exporters have had access to fewer containers to ship products.
More than 400 sailings had been canceled due to corona-virus-reduced demand, according to “American Shipper” in a mid-April article. That equated to a loss of 7 million 20-foot containers to Europe and the United States. Ocean freight is a round-trip market, Jarzombek said.
Ron Vincent is director of logistics for M.E. Dey and Company, a freight forwarder and customs broker based in Milwaukee. He and his colleague, Brian Shea, the company’s export manager, said acquiring 20-foot and 40-foot export containers is generally proceeding well. But they added that specialized equipment may require more time to find.