Year of the surcharge: More costs coming for New Zealand shippers next year?

More and higher shipping surcharges are on the way next year and importers and exporters can expect international shipping lines to continue to hold the freight rates whip through2022.

That’s the prediction of Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Federation president Chris Edwards, who said 2022 “may well be the year of the surcharge”.

On sea freight costs he’s also hawkish. “We’re not expecting to see any improvement in ocean freight rates or services in the first three quarters of 2022 if demand stays high.”

The freight forwarding industry comprises businesses that organise the import and exporting of goods for individuals and corporates.

Global container shipping charges have doubled and trebled since the pandemic outbreak with consumers spending their money on goods because they can’t travel or enjoy usual freedoms. Covid also caused the near collapse of the airfreight industry and meansshipping lines suddenly hold all the cards in the cargo shifting game.

Virus outbreaks and the shipping boom have caused severe disruption to the global supply chain, creating congestion and unloading delays at ports and playing havoc with vessel call schedules.

A flurry of container shipbuilding is under way but Edwards believes it will be the last quarter of 2022 before some of that new capacity enters the market.

“… Certainly by Q1 of 2023 that should start influencing rates and capacity. The wild card is inflation – if that continues to rise it is likely to suppress demand around the world, which perversely is likely to improve the supply chain crisis in ocean freight.”

Meanwhile, he said more costs are coming.

“Aside from freight rates, look for more surcharges in 2022 – infrastructure fees in Auckland and Christchurch, biofuel levies from the (shipping) lines as they look to go carbon neutral, container equipment levies and potentially a further increase in bunkering if the price of oil continues to rise.”

Edwards said shippers may have already noticed subtle increases in document administration fees from lines “in an age of digitisation that should in fact make it cheaper to exchange data and documents”.

Recent reports speculated that ocean freight rates were beginning to drop and the worst of the rises was over had proved premature, he said.

“We have always said that rates are only one side of the coin – the other being capacity – and that you’d need to see a longer trend in both before you could be sure the peak has been hit.

“So it was no surprise to see rates begin to rise again in the past weeks. Why? Because demand still outstrips supply and the basic rule of economics is that when that happens prices rise.”

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