container shortage

The Shortage of Shipping Containers in China: Impact and Causes


The shortage of shipping containers in China has become a significant problem that has persisted well into 2021. This has been due to a significant trade imbalance, exacerbated by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Containers carrying goods leave China and do not return, while some Southeast Asian countries have outsourced their production to China, contributing to China’s share of global exports. Read on to learn more about the causes, impact, and latest developments of the shipping container shortage in China.


shipping containers, trade imbalance, Covid-19 pandemic, global exports, freight rates, seafarers

Causes of the Shortage

The Covid-19 pandemic’s impact on production in countries around the world, coupled with the approaching peak season for Chinese exports to Europe and the United States, has contributed to the shipping container shortage. Moreover, the significant trade imbalance between China and other nations has led to a severe shortage of shipping containers. Due to this imbalance, containers full of goods leave China and do not return, causing a deficit of containers in China. This situation is exacerbated by Southeast Asian countries outsourcing production to China, further increasing its share of global exports.

Impact of the Shortage

The shortage of shipping containers in China has had a significant impact on global trade. Storage fees and demurrage incurred during this period have been a significant expense, and as demand gradually recovers, shipping companies are unwilling to operate at a loss, causing freight rates to soar. Container ship owners have implemented further surcharges and rate increases for Asia-to-Europe routes in the final weeks of the year as a shortage of boxes in Asia outpaces the slowdown in export shipments. The shipping industry is also faced with another challenge- recruiting enough seafarers worldwide. Seafarers’ wages have risen sharply this year, which has further increased shipping costs.

Latest Developments

The shortage of shipping containers and the challenges faced by the shipping industry are still ongoing, as the pandemic continues to affect global trade. The BIMCO Shipping Association has warned that the container crisis is expected to continue into 2022. In response, China is investing in new container production to help ease the shortage, with some companies planning to make up to 200,000 new containers in 2021. Shipping companies are also exploring other solutions, such as the use of air freight, to help alleviate the shortage.

The shipping container shortage in China is an ongoing problem that will continue to affect global trade in the coming years. Shipping companies and governments must work together to find long-term solutions to combat this issue and ensure the efficient movement of goods worldwide.