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Sri Lanka exporters, importers battle high rates, box shortfalls to maintain trade lifeline

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Sri Lanka’s exporters and importers are working against multiple global and domestic logistics disruptions in the post-Covid-19 period to keep exports ticking and supply the country with essential foods and raw material as freight rates soar.

Exporters are also facing shortfalls of containers with import controls in Sri Lanka, compounding global bottlenecks in shuttling empty containers.

Though freight rates have started to stabilize gradually from Covid-19 peaks, Sri Lankan shippers are paying high rates and battling capacity bottlenecks.

Perfect Storm

Freight rates from Colombo to Europe, China and Hong Kong have jumped over 200 per cent, to the US over 150 per cent and to Singapore over 100 per cent, Sri Lanka’s Shipper Council Chairman Suren Abeysekera said.

Freight rates were competitive before the Covid-19 pandemic, helped by large container ships coming into service, but pandemic disruptions rapidly pushed up rates as ships were taken off service reducing capacity.

The Shanghai Freight Index has jumped three-fold compared to 2019 last quarter while the Drewry’s World Container Freight Index also shows a threefold jump from 2019 with the average spot freight rate jumping from 1500 dollars in March 2019 to 4800 dollar by March 2021, Abeysekera said.

“In my 21-plus year experience I have never seen something like this before,” Abeysekera said calling it a ‘perfect storm’ in ocean freight.

The resurgence of economic activities after Covid lockdowns ended, and the rush to build up stocks had created congestion in the global logistics system.

Shipping companies were making large profits and orders have also been placed at shipbuilders.

“Whatever that stopped during COVID, couldn’t come back to its former glory even though the industry came back quickly to match the consumer demand,” Abeysekera explained.

Costly Delays

Across the logistics chain, there are delays and congestion, which is a cost to shippers.

“Congestions created at ports amplify this issue with ships spending more time close to ports rather than moving cargo on water,” Abeysekera said.

While global trade has not actually grown, it is the disruptions and delays that are causing capacity problems, he said.

“Remember the number of ships in the world has not suddenly increased but most are out of schedule creating havoc to demand when it needs supply.”

“It is our understanding that the current volatility in the ocean freight market would continue throughout 2021 and shippers in the country should adapt to the new norm in containerized shipping,” he said.

The industry has taken a number of initiatives to mitigate the situation; more innovations are being underway, but there are also measures that authorities can take, he said.

Box Shortfall

Overall ships are fuller than before, reducing the ability of shuttles to be emptied.

Globally there were difficulties in getting hold of empty containers and also specific types such as food-grade boxes, refrigerated containers and different sizes such as 40-foot containers and 20-foot containers.

Vessels delaying their return to Asia due to congestion in export destinations had also contributed to a shortfall of containers in Asia. Others have also got stuck in inland ports.

There is at least one investigation by regulators to probe whether an artificial shortage is created, he said.

In Sri Lanka exporters are facing difficulties getting empty containers in general and specific types of containers.

Sri Lanka’s import controls had created shortfalls of empty containers, whereas, in the past, there was an excess of boxes on the island.

“Specifically for Sri Lanka, the reduction of imports has had a direct impact on container availability,” Abeysekera said.

“Generally, Sri Lanka has an imbalance in the number of containers with more inflow than outflow. But currently, it is reversed.”

Due to import imbalance, the 20’ equivalent size containers have a better availability compared to 40’ and 45’ containers in Sri Lanka.

But the overall export cost of 2 x 20’ containers instead of a 40’ container is incomparable.

Shippers Innovating

Shippers are taking several measures on their own to mitigate the fallout and maintain the external trade lifelines of the country.

Forecasting volumes to shipping lines and maintaining accuracy is one way to make sure shipments can be made on time.

“Currently, the earlier you could forecast the lines, the better chance for exporters/ importers to obtain space on vessels,” Abeysekera said.

“Presently, forecasting is done as early as and when found weeks ahead by some users. This helps with rates as well.”

The creation of a common container pool without having to look for containers in specific yards would also help, he said.

It is not clear whether an online data-based could be set up for container freight stations to update data daily.

Official Measures

State authorities could also take measures that would help combat the problem.

Sri Lanka has lost a number of ocean services during the congestion that happened during a Covid-19 spike at Colombo Port last year.

Though many lines have returned some are still bypassing Colombo.

“Sri Lanka should market its Colombo port internationally as a port which successfully combats Covid and attract vessels back to its shores which will increase capacity for local importers and exporters,” Abeysekera said.

Attracting new lines to Colombo would also help.

Sri Lanka can also invite shipping lines to use Colombo as their hub in Asia, he said.

Additional ships calling in Colombo will give more business to shipping agents and other service providers including husbandry and ship services.

Sri Lanka however has placed controls on foreign ownership of shipping agencies, which some say has prevented the island from following on the path of Singapore where regional offices are set up.

Fast-tracking clearances by border agencies would also help, he said.

Sri Lanka can also relook at import controls, he said. Ad hoc changes are creating ripples and uncertainties in the market.

While the cost of shipping had hit record levels, shippers have to put up with very high service charges from middlemen such as freight forwarders, consolidators.

He says such gauging is unethical given the current context. (ECONOMYNEXT)

 

 



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Information Dept. media release: EC Chief asks public not to be misled

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by Priyan de Silva

Chairman of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka, Nimal Punchihewa, asked to comment on a special news release, purportedly issued by the Director General of the Department of Government Information, on Sunday (29), told  The Island  that preparations for the 09 March local government elections were going ahead, as planned, and that the media statement at issue was misleading.

The media statement says: “The gazette notice with signatures of the Chairman and other members of the Election Commission required for the commencement of the Local Government election process has not been sent to the Government Press for printing.”

Punchihewa requested the public not to be misled by any misinformation being spread in an attempt to create doubts in their minds.He also  reiterated that the EC would not be deterred by any acts of intimidation.

Three of the EC members have been threatened with death by an unidentified caller to resign from their posts. They are S. B. Divaratne, M. M. Mohamed and K. P. P. Pathirana. The Opposition has accused the government of trying to sabotage the LG polls.

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Cardinal urges Catholics to fight for justice

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 By Norman Palihawadane

Today’s Church does not need ‘sacristy Catholics’ but a laity who fight for justice, says Colombo Archbishop Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith.

Addressing a gathering at a ceremony to mark the 40th Anniversary of the Deva Dharma Nikethanaya, at Archbishop’s House auditorium, at Borella, last week, the Cardinal said that turning every layperson into a mature Christian, fit for leadership, should be the foremost duty of the Catholic Church. “Once the Catholic Church functioned as a Bishop-priest centered church and did only what the Bishop of the priest would say. We have to change the outlook of the Church. Today, we no longer need such sacristy Catholics. We need a laity who are ready to get down to the streets and fight for justice and do what is right for society,” the Cardinal said.

“The Church needs Christians who will commit themselves for Christ and follow his example. We do not need spoon-fed babies,” he said.

He said that the Bishops and Priests should not be afraid of handing over the responsibilities to the laity. “We should share our responsibilities with joy. The Church cannot continue otherwise. Understanding this situation, Pope Francis wants to change the priest-centres position that has become a theoretical doctrine in the church and to study how the church should change in a way that suits the present world.”

Apostolic Nuncio to Sri Lanka Rev Dr Brian Udaigwe and President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference President Rt Rev Dr Harold Anthony Perera also addressed the gathering.

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Protests against 13A used to arouse communal feelings – SJB

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Protests against the implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution are being used to arouse communal feelings among people ahead of an election, says the main Opposition SJB.

Addressing the media on Saturday, at the Opposition Leader’s Office in Colombo, Chief Opposition Whip, SJB Kandy District MP Lakshman Kiriella, said:

“This country has witnessed many instances in the past. This time, too, the same old slogan of the country being divided is heard again.

“The 13th Amendment is part of the Constitution. All parties have contested elections under the 13th Amendment. The UNP, SLFP, SLPP and JVP have contested provincial council elections. It shows that they have accepted the 13th Amendment. Those in such parties now opposing the 13th Amendment must first explain how they oppose it directly while accepting the same indirectly by sending their members to the provincial councils set up under the 13th Amendment,” Kiriella said.

“The claim of the country being divided by the 13th amendment is made to arouse the communal feelings.

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