The spectre of empty shop shelves looms large over the Christmas season due to ongoing international shipping delays to New Zealand.
While people have largely resumed almost-normal life, the global pandemic has wreaked havoc on several manufacturing nations such as Bangladesh, India, China and Guatamala causing issues with product supply.
But fewer ships and choked ports are also preventing goods from being imported and delivered to retailers.
So what are the issues that could result be delaying the arrival of your new couch or appliance?
Industrial action in Australia
Port workers in Australia have taken periodic strike action across key ports over a pay dispute.
While some strikes have been put on hold, new industrial action has been launched in November by tug boat crew.
But the strikes have resulted in ships scrambling to remain on schedule and missing some port visits to make up for lost time.
The tyranny of distance
The disruption at Australian ports has flowed through to New Zealand because many of our shipping services route via Australia. As a result, ships that can’t get into Australia have also bypassed New Zealand.MORE FROM
DEBRIN FOXCROFT • BUSINESS REPORTER
New Zealand Food and Grocery Council chief executive Katherine Rich described this as “the tyranny of distance” at a time when shipping companies are trying to maximise profits.
Backlog at NZ ports
Goods that do make it to New Zealand often become part of a huge backlog at ports, particularly in the North Island.
Congestion has become so bad that some shipping lines have introduced a surcharge on cargo passing through Ports of Auckland, on top of shipping rates that are sometimes several times higher than usual.
There are a number of reasons for the backlog, including a Covid-19 related delay in a major automation project at the Ports of Auckland and a struggle to get the right staff to man the port’s eight cranes.
Demand for consumer goods has also increased 20 to 25 per cent compared to last year.
As a result, Ports of Auckland has been accused of overloading the Port of Tauranga with vessels there during its peak export season.
Reduced shipping to New Zealand means there is also a shortage of empty shipping containers needed for exporters to get goods out of the country.
Mainfreight managing director Don Braid told RNZ that the domestic freight network was “finite”.
“There’s only a certain number of trucks, trains and coastal shipping containers that you can have. So, what we are asking our customers to do is to order earlier, and have less expectation on quick delivery,” he said.
There are still significantly feweraircraft flying in and out of New Zealand than before the Covid-19 pandemic.
International flights out of New Zealand have dropped from about 600 a week to about 120, nearly halving air freight capacity.
This is particularly an issue for perishable goods like strawberries.
Limited production in some manufacturing countries
Production is ramping up in countries such as China, however, some are still struggling with controlling the Covid-19 virus.
Bangladesh, the world’s second largest garment manufacturer, is facing another wave of lockdowns this month.
This could cause a shortage of clothing around the world.
But it’s not all bad news. While Bangladesh and other manufacturing nations are still struggling with Covid-19, China has largely bounced back to pre-virus production levels.