Supply Bottlenecks Leave Ships Stranded, Businesses Stymied

NEW YORK (AP) -
In this Wednesday, March 3, 2021 photo, container cargo ships are seen docked in the Port of Los Angeles. ( AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

A trade bottleneck born of the COVID-19 outbreak has U.S. businesses anxiously awaiting goods from Asia — while off the coast of California, dozens of container ships sit anchored, unable to unload their cargo.

The pandemic has wreaked havoc with the supply chain since early 2020, when it forced the closure of factories throughout China. The seeds of the current problems were sown last March, when Americans stayed home and dramatically changed their buying habits — instead of clothes, they bought electronics, fitness equipment and home improvement products. U.S. companies responded by flooding reopened Asian factories with orders, leading to a chain reaction of congestion and snags at ports and freight hubs across the country as the goods began arriving.

Main Street businesses are now forced to wait months instead of the usual weeks for a delivery from China, and no one knows when the situation will be resolved. Owners do a lot of explaining to customers, order more inventory than usual and lower their expectations for when their shipments will arrive.

But there are choke points on land as well. It can take 8,000 trucks to haul the cargo away from a ship, says Kip Louttit, executive director of the Marine Exchange of Southern California. But when all those trucks hit the road, there aren’t enough available when dockworkers are trying to unload the next ships in port. Freight rail traffic has also been affected.

Exporters are also feeling the impact of the bottlenecks. When containers are unloaded at the ports, many are being sent empty back to Asia instead of being held and filled with U.S. goods.