The outbreak of COVID-19 has impacted international shipping, which is a crucial element of the coffee trade. While no one can yet predict the full impact this virus will have, there are several things we know right now.
Ethiopia containment measures
The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Ethiopia on March 13, and in response the government closed schools, canceled sporting events and suspended meetings for two weeks. Our suppliers and export partners report that shipping continues as usual for now.
International shipping backlog
The country with the highest stake in international shipping is China. As the original epicentre of the COVID-19 virus, the impact was felt early. It is estimated that shipping volumes in Chinese ports dropped between 20% – 40% between the last week of January until mid February. This is due to two reasons. Firstly, other countries barred ships from China in their ports, and secondly, Chinese ports were operating below full capacity due to staff shortages, travel restrictions and quarantine measures.
Containers that didn’t ship due to the virus outbreak have created a backlog for future shipments. When shipping resumes at full capacity, this backlog will likely lead to a container shortage which will delay future shipments and possibly increase shipping prices. No one can say exactly when this will happen, but as of March 17 the situation in China is slowly returning to normal. Quarantine is ending for people who live outside the Hubei province, so we expect Chinese ports will soon return to full capacity. However the epicentre of the outbreak has moved to Europe, which may impact container arrivals if ports close or reduce capacity.
At this point, it is hard to predict when life and business will return to normal, but for now we are shipping containers from Ethiopia, and we are working to get all our coffees on the water as soon as possible.
We will keep you updated of any changes.