International Shipping Rates Challenge: New Year, Same Capacity Challenges

In the international shipping marketplace, that translates to equipment availability issues, ongoing capacity pressure and motivation for the major shipping alliances to maintain record-high rates.

Although the Chinese New Year February 11-26 offers promise of a breather for vessel, port and intermodal operations, events of 2020 created enough congestion and imbalance that volatility will continue to affect supply chains reliant on international transportation.

Let’s explore factors that will affect price, capacity and service in the first half of 2021 and continue to contribute to international shipping rates challenges.

No International Shipping Relief in Sight

Signs of a unique year are already emerging. Capacity demands are at levels unlike we’ve ever experienced for this season. Bookings are at capacity through January and into February.

As a result, international shipping rates are not going down any time soon. Since the 3 major shipping alliances control about 85 percent of international shipping capacity, operators leverage their power more than in the past. A General Rate Increase has not been announced since September, but we are not seeing the typical drop in costs that normally accompanies a loosening of capacity that follows peak season. That will keep rates elevated.

Additional loaders are being deployed to keep up with demand. Some of those come online to send empty containers back to Asia. There, ports wait for a hundreds of thousands of containers to move slowly back into the flow from the congested U.S. West Coast.

Optimism is high that the Chinese New Year will afford two weeks of breathing room for the international shipping industry to catch up. Unfortunately, 16 days will not likely be enough time to alleviate several months’ worth of challenges that continue to affect services and cost across your end-to-end network.

Ripples Across Transportation Spend Clogs International and Domestic Supply Chain

The ripple of demand, capacity and equipment availability is felt across all transportation modes. Congestion on the rail stalls movement of freight. Full inbound containers detained by the rail are being stored off-site, requiring additional moves. When there is disruption to intermodal, expect it to occur across truckload and LTL and pressure cost management and service times as a result.

In this environment, global distribution of COVID-19 vaccine creates additional demand spikes, especially for the Air Freight mode that will fill a key role in the transportation of temperature sensitive materials. Likewise, expect to see impact across other domestic modes as medical supplies are prioritized, and, in the process, pushing transportation pricing up and capacity down.

On the trade compliance front, a new administration in Washington, D.C., has promised to bring regulation changes that will likely develop more slowly. Efforts to rollback tariffs, like China 301, get a lot of attention, and while the policy changes of a new president may not move quickly, expect some ripple in the complex rules for importing and exporting goods into the United States.

Consumer Behaviors Drive “Forever Peak” with Overseas Shipping

Problems challenging the international supply chain emanate from ongoing shifts in consumer behavior. E-commerce continues to fill buying voids left open by vacations and visits to the mall. Disposable income drives the online purchase of goods and the volume of consumable goods moving through transportation networks is creating an extended peak season across all modes.

Buyers are quickly becoming accustomed to the immediate purchase satisfaction that comes from an online order, and that is not ever going to revert. Raw material, component and finished good sourcing strategies as well as inventory management practices become increasingly complicated when buyers know they can take their cart elsewhere if you do not have the desired quantity available to fill their online order.

To make sure you protect that experience and secure every sale, it is critical to understand how every piece of the end-to-end supply chain puzzle – from foreign production site and overseas shipping, to trade compliance, domestic transportation and last mile delivery – fits together into a total landed cost of goods.

An expert partner can help you assemble the big picture perspective so you can control your international and domestic spend and turn your focus toward achieving strategic goals for your business.

For more insight on multi-modal transportation trends that will affect your cost and service in 2021, download our Q1 Industry Forecast. It features a look at things to come for shippers relying on Truckload, LTL and Parcel transportation, as well as our international transportation forecasts.

From NAFTA to USMCA: All Trade Agreements Are Not Created Equal

Furthermore, many companies focused on overcoming operational challenges of the pandemic have been able to delay response to a regulatory action that’s been outside the spotlight.

Until now.

On July 1, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) replaces the existing requirements of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), with an exception for certain automotive products that will have a three-year transitional period. Many elements of NAFTA were retained in the new agreement; however, there are distinctions in the USMCA that require review and consideration by trade participants to ensure they effectively manage compliance during this program transition. According to a recent survey, there appears to be some confusion among supply chain managers on how to implement these changes and mitigate non-compliance risk to maintain company profitability.

Importers’ goods that qualified under NAFTA may also be eligible for USMCA; however, there are subtle changes that may impact those determinations. USMCA due diligence should be conducted by all trade participants as a demonstration of compliance, for all companies participating in North American trade between the United States, Mexico and/or Canada.

5 Differences Between NAFTA and USMCA

  1. Importers will no longer be required to complete a formal NAFTA certification document. A certificate of origin may now be completed based on information provided by the producer. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is not mandating a standard format for certificates of origin as long as they contain all of the required data elements. A best practice is to have the certification in hand before making a claim. Previous NAFTA certificates and certification documentation under USMCA must be kept for a minimum of five years.
  2. The de minimis threshold increases. NAFTA’s threshold of 7 percent for FOB value increases under USMCA to 10 percent. The de minimis for textiles and apparel is different.
  3. The terms of the USMCA will remain in effect for 16 years, after which time the parties can choose to revisit and/or renegotiate those terms, or withdraw from the agreement altogether. The agreement is also subject to a review every six years, at which point the United States, Mexico, and Canada can decide whether or not to extend the agreement if they feel doing so would be beneficial.
  4. Merchandise Process Fee (MPF) refunds will not be made on post-importation claims. An importer who fails to claim preferential tariff treatment at the time of entry will not be able to recoup their MPF through a post-summary correction or reconciliation later.
  5. Changes were made to the Rule of Origin for various goods (e.g., manufactured goods, pharmaceuticals, healthcare products, textiles and apparel, agricultural goods, etc.). However there are significant changes within the automotive sector concerning eligibility based on regional value content. In general, USMCA now requires the total North American-based content of a vehicle to equal 75 percent (up from 62.5 percent). USMCA also requires that 70 percent of a vehicle’s steel and aluminum must originate in North America.

How should importers prepare for the USMCA transition to ensure compliance?

Importers should carefully review their imported goods to ensure they understand the new rules of origin and can verify that they qualify under the new agreement. Binding rulings that determine parameters of origin determination under NAFTA will be invalid, and a new binding ruling will be required for USMCA.

We also recommend performing a comprehensive review of imported goods through internal or external compliance means to demonstrate USMCA Compliance due diligence. For example, there may be cases where goods did not qualify under the terms of NAFTA but may now qualify under USMCA.

And above all else, it is imperative that importers maintain a proper record-keeping system. This means you must document where all of your goods originate, and you must have on file a detailed description of your sourcing, production and determination process that clearly defines that the goods qualify.

Our Experience is Your Compass

It is a grave error for importers to assume their goods qualify under USMCA, even if they were NAFTA eligible.

To help guide you through the necessary process to determine whether or not your products do meet USMCA rules, Transportation Insight’s team of international compliance consultants are ready to help you outline and execute a personalized scope of work plan to ensure your USMCA program is in full compliance.

While your focus today on maximum supply chain efficiency can improve your ability to meet arising market demands, a partner with expertise in international trade compliance brings you peace of mind – and so much more. We take over the work of helping you navigate through the change from NAFTA to USMCA so you can progress toward global supply chain mastery.

Make sure your trade compliance processes are updated to protect your business financial risk that emerges during the implementation of complex new regulations. Contact one of our global trade compliance experts today for a free consultation.