Rail, trucking, equipment positioning and other costs remain the central issue affecting service later this year.
Container shipping lines operating from Asia to the US are concerned that even a modest peak season in the summer and fall months will cause disruptions and have major cost impacts on their operations, particularly with regard to East Coast all-water shipments. As a result, member lines in the Transpacific Stabilization Agreement (TSA) say they intend to phase in higher peak season surcharges in those market segments as the season progresses.
A previously announced peak season surcharge of US$400 per 40-foot container (FEU) for all Asia-US cargo moving on TSA member line vessels will take effect on June 15, 2006 as scheduled. Effective July 15, surcharges for all-water East and Gulf Coast moves via the Panama and Suez Canals will be increased to $500 per FEU. Effective August 15, those surcharges will be set at $600 per FEU through the remainder of the peak season period ending November 15, unless further adjustments are required. The peak season surcharge for US West Coast port-to-port cargo, and for inland and minilandbridge intermodal shipments, will remain at $400 for the entire June 15-November 30 period.
‘The industry expected Asia-US cargo growth to moderate last year and it exceeded even the most optimistic forecasts,’ said TSA Executive Director Albert A. Pierce. ‘The trade has now seen four record years of mostly double-digit growth. Vessel space is still tight, terminal and rail improvements are still far from completion, equipment turn times are still slow and carriers are concerned; they’re not taking anything for granted.’
Pierce noted that first quarter 2006 container volumes from Asia totaled 1.4 million FEU, up 9.8% from the same period in 2005, and China cargo was up nearly 15%. Post-Lunar New Year and post-Golden Week cargo levels have returned to normal following those holidays in Asia. Third- quarter peak season Asia-U.S. traffic exceeded first quarter levels by 28% in 2005 and 19.9% in 2004. An average of one in four containers moving through US container terminals is an empty unit being repositioned, most as part of a trans-Pacific round trip, with no revenue contribution toward repositioning costs. ‘Customers tell us they want above all else service choice, schedule reliability and equipment availability,’ Pierce added. ‘This a high-cost, high-stakes game for all of the parties involved. Shipping lines cannot afford to be caught unprepared.’