I am at logistics conference at the moment where the major theme is a chronically tight global container shipping market because of booming exports from China. Ports are congested, waiting times are increasing, freight rates have in some cases doubled in the last two months(for example, the Middle East-Asia route) and there is no immediate sign of new container freight capacity easing the crisis.
And across the globe there is an imbalance between rapidly growing economies such as China and exports back out of some receiving countries in the same container vessels.
This result is lots of re-positioning or backhaul i.e containers moving out of the receiving countries empty. Countries such as Russia, for example, have small manufacturing industries and therefore need to import far more than they are able to export.
So if you are a polymer producer, there are savings to be made by scouring the globe for supplies of these empty containers.
What you do is you move your polymers to the country where the empty containers are sitting and fill those containers to move back to China, India etc. The shippers are delighted because they earn guaranteed extra revenue and the exporters in China are are dead chuffed because they don’t have to haggle with the shippers over re-positioning fees (compensation for moving the containers empty back to China).
Now I cannot name the company I was speaking to fear of losing a good contact, but a polyolefins producer said to me over lunch over how he could be moving his product from his plant in central Asia to St Peterburg in Russia, via rail.
And then from St Petersburg, the polyolefins might move by sea all the way to China!
This is being repeated across the industry because supply chain effiiciency is so important for overall competitiveness.
The point of my headline is this – what will happen if the regulators start clamping down on this in a bid to tackle a producer’s overall emissions, from the efficiency of his plant to final delivery to the customer?
Producers may not necessarily have to stop the use of convoluted shippings. If the economics still add up, they might buy carbon credits or find other ways of offsetting their responsibility for these extra emissions.
The producer I was speaking to believes it is possible that legislation to this effect will be introduced over the next two years.