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Supply Chain Updates

Supply Chain Update – September 8

By September 8th, 2023No Comments8 min read

Ongoing Drought Sustains Restrictions at Panama Canal

The Panama Canal Authority recently announced that the water levels at the crucial maritime route have not sufficiently rebounded. As a result, limitations on daily ship transits and vessel drafts will remain for the rest of 2023 and extend into 2024. This decision comes despite the rainy season nearing its end. The measures were initially imposed earlier this year in response to an extended period of drought that caused water levels to drop in Gatun Lake, the main water source for the canal.

For those involved in global trade, this news may exacerbate existing challenges. The canal, responsible for approximately 5% of world trade, has seen backlogs due to these restrictions. The situation has led to inflated freight costs and longer waiting times for certain types of ships, particularly as the holiday season looms. Additionally, water scarcity has led many ship operators to opt for alternative transit routes. While some relief has been noted with a 20% ease in bottlenecks compared to last week, experts warn that water levels could hit near-record lows by next April, indicating that these disruptions could persist.


West Coast Dockworkers Seal New Labor Contract

International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) members have ratified a new six-year labor agreement with port employers represented by the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA). Effective retroactively from July 1, 2022, the contract will expire on July 1, 2028. The decision ends over a year of uncertainty after the previous contract lapsed, and was backed by a majority of 75% of ILWU members. This labor contract pertains to 20,000 workers at all 29 West Coast ports overseen by the PMA.

This newly minted contract is crucial for the stability of the U.S. container shipping sector, concluding a long period of tumultuous negotiations and uncertainty. It secures jobs, enhances wages, and sustains existing benefits like health coverage and pension plans. In addition, the resolution comes amid a context where cargo volumes, although having normalized, are still above their pre-pandemic levels. This suggests that contractual stability could contribute to maintaining the efficient flow of goods through these key ports, which serve as primary gateways for U.S. trade.


Global Rice Market Faces Multiple Challenges

Recent weather disasters and other factors are causing major disruptions in the global rice market. Catastrophic floods in Heilongjiang, China’s primary rice-producing province, have destroyed 40% of the region’s rice crop. Meanwhile, India and Myanmar have implemented restrictive export policies for rice, citing concerns over food security and rising food prices. Furthermore, Thai authorities are urging farmers to reduce rice planting due to erratic weather conditions associated with this year’s El Niño.

These challenges come at a time when global rice prices are reaching a 12-year high. The export restrictions from India and Myanmar, significant players in the rice business, along with the crop losses in China, a massive consumer of rice, can lead to increased volatility in rice availability and pricing. With more than 50 million tons of rice shipped globally by sea each year, these disruptions could have far-reaching effects on the cost and supply chain of this staple commodity.


Port of Nigg Secures Expanded Role in Moray West Offshore Project

The Port of Nigg in Scotland has been chosen once again for tasks related to the development of the Moray West offshore wind farm. Managed by Global Energy Group, the port will handle the marshaling of 62 transition pieces for the 882 MW wind farm. This adds to earlier responsibilities that the port had for this wind farm, including wind turbine pre-assembly and J-tube frame fabrication. The transition pieces are scheduled to arrive later in 2023, and the entire project aims for completion by 2024.

The selection strengthens the Port of Nigg’s standing as a significant hub for offshore renewable energy initiatives. The port has handled similar projects since 2016 and received over £120 million in investments to bolster its capabilities. This comes after its inclusion in the recently designated Inverness and Cromarty Firth Green Freeport, a specialized trading zone aimed at fostering sustainable industrial activities. With a strong history in supporting offshore wind projects, the Port of Nigg is well-positioned to meet the logistical needs for large-scale renewable energy undertakings.


Prolonged Inventory Drawdowns in the US

Jason Miller, an associate professor of logistics at Michigan State University, revealed that the U.S. is going through a sustained reduction in inventory levels. According to data from public institutions like the U.S. Census Bureau and others, this trend isn’t just a short-term occurrence but is expected to last for a significant period.

Especially noteworthy is that sectors relying heavily on air freight to bring in high-value items from Asia are feeling the impact. These areas are experiencing more accelerated drawdowns, signaling shifts in how goods are managed and stocked in the retail and wholesale sectors.


New Technology Speeds Up Cargo Movement at U.S. Rail Terminals

In a recent development, BNSF Railway is integrating modern technology into its terminal operations across the United States. This year, the railway company has initiated the use of cameras and artificial intelligence in three of its key terminals located in Alliance (Dallas-Fort Worth), Logistics Park Chicago, and Phoenix. The company is also leveraging drone technology in its Dallas-Fort Worth location, complying with Federal Aviation Administration guidelines.

The introduction of these technologies aims to enhance the efficiency of terminal operations, including quicker truck turn times and higher train unloading rates. This also enables more accurate tracking of cargo containers. With better visibility and quicker operations, these improvements could greatly affect how swiftly goods move through these critical transport hubs.



Philippines and South Korea Finalize Free Trade Agreement

On September 7, 2023, the Philippine President announced the completion of a free trade agreement between the Philippines and South Korea. The announcement came after four years of trade and investment discussions and was made public while the President attended the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The deal is expected to offer various economic advantages. Banana exports from the Philippines are anticipated to reach South Korea within five years, while canned pineapples will be subject to zero duty in seven years. On the other side, the agreement opens up the Philippine market for South Korean vehicles and automotive parts. Both nations view this agreement as a significant step in bolstering economic ties and job creation.


ASEAN and Canada Elevate Relationship to Strategic Partnership Amid Trade Talks

On September 6, 2023, during the ASEAN-Canada Summit in Jakarta, it was announced that ASEAN has officially given Canada the strategic partner status. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is attending the summit to further dialogue with Southeast Asian leaders. The two entities have been collaborating on various fronts, such as politics and security, since 1977.

The upgraded relationship will likely have economic implications. Ongoing negotiations for a free trade agreement between ASEAN and Canada aim to be finalized by 2025. In 2021, the trade volume between Canada and ASEAN member nations reached $40.7 billion. The discussions also extend to sectors like food security and industrial programs. The agreement is anticipated to build upon a 29% increase in trade between Canada and ASEAN from the prior year, strengthening economic ties.


$200 Million Investment to Revolutionize Port of Broome

A $200 million private investment has been announced to upgrade the Port of Broome’s infrastructure, with construction slated to commence in late 2023. The Western Australian government and Kimberley Ports Authority are supporting the privately-funded initiative. The project aims to create 260 jobs during construction and sustain approximately 1650 jobs once operational. Designed to service emerging needs in the Kimberley region, the new facility includes an innovative floating wharf and aims to be completed by early 2025.

The state-of-the-art facility promises to transform the maritime logistics landscape. A floating wharf designed to counter the operational challenges posed by the large tidal variations in Broome will be among the new installations. The port will also increase its capacity to accommodate the changing needs of the Kimberley region, enhancing its connectivity to Asian markets and creating opportunities for tourism growth and diversification. The floating wharf will be 9900 sqm and equipped for heavy lifting. Importantly, the design eliminates the need for dredging by utilizing the naturally deep waters of the area, thus facilitating trade in an eco-friendly manner.