The shipping industry deserves better than xenophobia

The shipping industry deserves better than xenophobia

As cargo volumes continue to increase to historic levels, each month breaking a new record, something else is on the rise in the supply chain — xenophobia.

Sometimes it is subtle; other times, it is given special emphasis by the speaker. But it is there. You can view it in television news stories, read it in mainstream media, and overhear it in countless calls among industry stakeholders, as everyone tries to grabble with supply chain congestion.

To blame the entirety of the supply chain problems on “foreign” carriers is a tried-and-true tactic. Overlooked in the disdainful reference to “foreign” carriers are the foreign manufacturers, customers, and markets where importers and exporters buy, sell, and profit.

Our world is very complex. We also have short attention spans and little, if any, memory. Blaming the ills of the entire supply chain on “foreign” carriers without explanation is a far simpler and appealing argument to make for industry advocates and far simpler for mainstream media outlets to regurgitate. It is easier than talking about the impact of excessive import or rail dwell times; on-street dwell time for chassis; warehouse vacancy rates; the impact on the supply chain of ports in China shutting down because of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19); the impact of factories in Vietnam closing down; port directors around the United States pleading for importers to pick up their cargo in a timely manner; devastating snow and ice storms in Texas and their impact on the national rail system; hurricanes in the US and Asia shutting down ports; the impact of COVID-19 on consumer demand and buying habits; and so on.

That requires thought. That requires an acknowledgement that the problem is complex, overlapping, and intensely impacted by the pandemic. Unfortunately, it is far easier to blame the congestion problem on the “foreign” carriers and point to ships anchored offshore. It is a great visual. It is easily explained.

I’m not absolving ocean carriers or any other part of the supply chain for the current crisis. But I’m not willing to standby and allow all the blame to be placed on one sector. The current situation requires solutions, not sound bites. We must look at the totality of the supply chain and the unprecedented consumer demand. As importers and exporters around the world clamor for containers, chassis, ships, drivers, rail capacity, and somewhere to place their cargo, there needs to be an admission that it is all interrelated. Sadly, we are not there yet.

I hate to admit it, but I’ve been in this industry a long time. I’ve seen and experienced a number of problems and challenges over the years. I never thought xenophobia would be one of those problems — until now.

Contact John McLaurin at