The partial closure of the Ningbo-Zhoushan port after a case of coronavirus was detected on August 11 among workers at the Meishan terminal, which handles about 20% of the port's total cargo, has caused some alarm in the global maritime community. Since then, the terminal has been closed and management has redirected cargo to other terminals in Ningbo port, the world's third busiest port, while shipping companies have been alerted, with some deciding to avoid the port altogether.
According to the South China Morning Post (SCMP), while it seems that a potential export crisis and a major traffic jam in cargo handling have been avoided, this closure should sound the alarm at a time when global shipping is scarce and major economies are just recovering from the pandemic.
Given the global importance of shipments from the Ningbo-Zhoushan Port and the Meishan terminal, in particular, there has been some criticism within international trade that China's 'zero-tolerance' policy is excessive.
However, China is not alone; New Zealand just reimposed a shutdown after the first COVID-19 case in six months was detected. The closure of key ports, even if they are partial closures, can disrupt world trade. Container shipping rates from China and Southeast Asia to the USEC have reached a record high of more than $ 20,600/ TEU, according to the Freightos Baltic Index (BDI). And Ningbo-Zhoushan port is key in this sea route.
Any congestion or disruption to shipping can contribute to an increase in the prices of goods. This, in turn, can hurt people in poorer nations and lead to inflation, which is already slowly rising in developed economies.
According to SCMP, governments and port administrations that are at the center of world trade in goods must prepare contingency plans to minimize disruptions. However, to encourage trade and lower costs to ease consumer pain and the threat of inflation, governments should reduce or even abolish tariffs that have been kept artificially high, especially those that were raised under the trade war between China and the United States in recent years.