The losses already caused by a fall in shipping traffic into and out of China as a result of the Covid-19 epidemic will not be made up this year, even if the traffic resumes quickly, according to the port of Antwerp.
Last year, traffic to and from China saw an increase of 16% for Antwerp, to 1.39 million containers. However from figures apparent already this year, the first quarter of 2020 looks like seeing a fall in traffic of six million containers.
China is an important partner for Antwerp, and if the losses so far this year are carried through to the rest of the year, the end result will be down 7% on 2019. And if the crisis lasts longer, the end figure will be higher still.
“The impact on the logistics chain is enormous,” commented Barbara Janssens, spokesperson for the Port Authority. “The impact is far greater than at the time of the SARS epidemic in 2002, because the Chinese economy is four times larger now, and much more connected to the rest of the world.”
Between 20 January and 6 February, according to container traffic specialist Alphaliner, container traffic at Chinese ports was down 20%. But ports like Antwerp and to a lesser extent Zeebrugge expect to see the effects only about the beginning of March, when ships that would have been expected here fail to show up.
The Port Authority said it would not expect the Chinese blockade to be lifted before mid-March at the earliest. And by then, the losses sustained thus far in the year could no longer be made up. “That’s because of the enormous shortage of container capacity that will be caused by the peaks arising when trade starts up again,” said Janssens.
And when Antwerp sneezes, other ports catch a cold.
“The port of Antwerp is after all a hub in Europe where goods and containers are loaded on to other ships, trains and lorries, to be carried to the hinterland,” Janssens said. Companies will find fewer Chinese products are available, while exporters will have trouble getting their products, such as machine parts, to China on time.
Meanwhile at Zeebrugge, Antwerp’s view is shared. The CSP container terminal there has already been informed of the cancellation of two incoming shipments from China and three planned departures to China in March.
Zeebrugge, said Carla Debast of CSP, is highly dependent on China, so the current problem weigh heavily on the port, even more than on Antwerp.