Fishing around in the murky backwaters of the internet yesterday for a secret Santa gift equal parts joyful, triumphant and passive-aggressive, it dawned on me that something was not quite right.
Clutching my crisp ten-pound-note in one hand, I scrolled in dismay with the other. Much of the Christmas wares – your choccy reindeers, novelty drinking vessels, personalised Marmites – were unavailable.
But how could this be, the one time of the year I need to get my hands on a pink spider catcher or an edible phallus? I scoured the internet for answers.
It turns out, there’s a very serious reason: a global shipping crisis. Essentially, shipping schedules were so badly disrupted during the early stages of the pandemic, and then again when different economies reopened (and reclosed, and reopened) at different times, that firms fell behind picking up empty containers at European ports and taking them back to Asia. A recent surge in demand has exacerbated the problem, causing congestion at British ports.
Meanwhile, a shortage of containers in Chinese ports means large shipping firms have been forced to tell importers that no more bookings can be made for ships sailing from Asia until the last week of December. And, of course, our old friend Brexit has also been at play, with some businesses stockpiling goods before the end of the transition period.
As a result, carriers are now adding congestion charges for imports to Felixstowe and Southampton. In fact, this week two major cargo shipping companies, Maersk and MSC, said they were swapping Felixstowe port for Liverpool in order to “provide stability” to their transatlantic trade services.
It’s a perfect storm. Together, these problems coalesce to force shipping costs through the roof. And undoubtedly, these costs will be passed on to the consumer.
I cannot even begin to tackle what this means for the future of global trade, only to say that some flexibility and intervention from the UK government is probably required now to increase capacity at our ports. Looking ahead, price increases for imports are only likely to accelerate the deglobalisation of our supply chains.
In other, simpler words: people are going to shop local. Here’s hoping my nearest delicatessen is well versed in the chocolate-anatomy crossover…