WTSAÆS PIERCE: PACIFIC REEFER EXPORTS FACE EQUIPMENT ISSUES
The growth in transpacific shipments of perishables and refrigerate goods is exacerbating container imbalances and equipment shortages, said Albert A. Pierce, executive director of the Westbound Transpacific Stabilization Agreement.
Despite a sagging U.S. economy, containerized reefer exports are expected to see modest growth in 2001, Pierce said at the Agriculture Ocean Transportation Coalition (AgOTC) meeting in San Francisco Friday. He noted projections from Drewry Shipping Consultants that worldwide refrigerated container trade will grow 4 percent a year through 2005, with Asia, particularly China, showing the sharpest import growth through 2010.
However, “only 12 to 15 percent of total slots on most post-Panamax ships crossing the Pacific are fitted for refrigerated equipment,”he said. “Available reefer capacity is still significantly limited in relation to overall vessel capacity.”
Temperature or humidity conrolled containers are also lagging demand, while equipment imbalances complicate matters.
“some 232,000 FEUs of refrigerated cargo moved westbound from the U.S. to Asia in 2000. By contrast, only about 40,000 refrigerated loads moved eastbound from Asia “a near 6:1 ratio,”he said.
Shippers of dry cargo tend to avoid using reefer containers, despite a 10 to 15-percent discount, because they are space inefficient, due to insulation and generators, he said. The sharp decline in exports of beek, pork and poultry shipments from Europe to the United States cuts off another repositioning option.
In China, where refrigerated imports are expected to grow sharply, refrigerated equipment “might well emerge as a critical part of China's agricultural infrastructure” Pierce said. As much as one-third of agricultural commodity shipments coming from interior points are lost, due to spoilage because they are shipped in open-top, uncovered rail cars.
Carriers are expanding their reefer fleets, but in doing so must address variables such as vessel and terminal capacity, seasonal use patterns, round-trip revenue, positioning costs and demand in other trade lanes, he said.
“Addressing the equipment problem will require a combination of incremental expansion in the overall transpacific fleet to meet long-term demand forecasts, a shift in the equipment mix; improved tracking of containers and cooperation in the release and return of equipment ” and pricing incentives and disincentives to encourage better utilization and justify fleet and service expansion for the future” he said.
The WTSA is a discussion agreement among container lines plying the westbound transpacific trade.