Trends and News for SMBs | June

Trends and News for SMBs | June
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Keep your business up to speed with the latest news.

Container shipping rates rise again, reaching pandemic-era levels 

 Shipping prices have risen sharply across the board, leading to speculation that the peak season has arrived as early as June, according to freight market tracker Xeneta. 

This surge is driven by a combination of factors, including ongoing disruptions in key shipping routes and increasing demand in major markets like the US and Europe. Disruptions caused by external factors, such as Yemen’s Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, restrictions in the Panama Canal, and signs of escalation in the US-China trade war, have further exacerbated the situation, limiting global shipping space and container availability. 

“Demand reached record levels in Q1 2024, up by 9.2% compared to Q1 2023, and comes at a time when the Red Sea situation is putting increased pressure on shipping capacity,” Emily Stausbøll, Xeneta Senior Shipping Analyst, said. 

 After a brief decline earlier this year, container prices rebounded, leading to a 140% increase in shipping costs compared to 2023, according to Xeneta. 

 Xeneta’s Chief Analyst, Peter Sand, told the BBC earlier this month that the valuable lessons that importers learned from the pandemic have prompted many to plan their holiday shipping as early as May. This proactive approach, Sand adds, emphasizes the importance of securing inventory well in advance to mitigate supply chain risks. 

 

Singapore Port reactivates mothballed berths and yards to handle congestion  

Singapore ports operator PSA is reactivating shuttered berths and yards at Keppel Terminal as it seeks to mitigate congestion caused by rerouted vessels, Straits Time reported.  

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) said it had seen a “bunching” effect caused by vessels diverted around the Cape of Good Hope arriving off schedule, according to the publication.  

Since the beginning of 2024, Singapore has seen a significant increase in vessel arrivals. While all kinds of vessels are arriving in greater numbers, the bunching disproportionately affects container vessels rather than tanker or bulk vessels. 

By reactivating the older berths and yards at the terminal, PSA said it could increase the number of containers handled weekly from 770,000 TEUs used to 820,000 TEUs. Three new berths are also due to become operational later this year. They will join the eight existing operational berths at Tuas Port, increasing overall handling capacity.  

Accelerating the commissioning of these new berths to help increase overall container handling capacity in the near term is one of the PSA’s immediate goals. Meanwhile, the MPA and PSA are working closely with container lines and regional feeders to update them on berth availability. This mainly involves advising incoming vessels about the best arrival times to minimize delays. 

According to the MPA, container volumes handled at Singapore during the first four months of 2024 stood at 13.36 million TEUs, up 8.8% from the same period last year. Port operators are dealing with increased volumes of freight, and an increased number of vessels arriving off schedule has resulted in longer wait times for a container berth. 

While most container vessels are berthed on arrival, the MPA said that the average waiting time for container vessels is about two to three days.  

It also added that several ocean carriers have been discharging increased numbers of containers in Singapore as they cancel port calls to catch up on schedules or subsequent voyages. 

Towards the end of May, delays to berth at Singapore reached up to seven days, according to Linerlytica website.  The congestion occurs just as Sea Intelligence releases new figures revealing a fall in global schedule reliability to just over 50%. At this time last year, it stood at around 65%. 

Port congestion in China has meant vessels heading for North America routinely arrive up to four days late and sometimes 20 days late on the return leg to Asia. 

 

Vietnam’s handicraft exporters tackle twin challenges of supply and sustainability 

Vietnam’s handicraft association believes it can double its handicraft exports if it can resolve the twin issues of sustainability certification and fluctuating supply, Vietnam News reported. 

Le Ba Ngoc, vice chairman of the Vietnam Handicraft Exporters Association (Vietcraft), said there was an urgent need to develop reliable and certified raw materials sources, according to Vietnam News. While Vietnam has a wealth of key handicraft materials like rattan and bamboo, supply to the country’s artisans fluctuates wildly, depending on demand from China. 

Le told the publication that Vietnamese craft villages sometimes face raw material shortages, but these alternate with surpluses depending on the Chinese market.  When China makes large purchases of materials like sedge or rattan, Vietnam can suffer shortages, he added.  

Le said that Vietnam’s handicraft industry could reach an export value of $6 billion by 2030 – double today’s value. However, to do so, it would need an annual supply of 100,000 tonnes of rattan, while currently, the country only produces 40,000 tonnes. 

Although the country is a major bamboo producer, with around 1.5 million hectares of bamboo forests, certain kinds of bamboo can become scarce. This is currently the case with fish pole bamboo. 

Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development is trying to ensure the stability of the supply of raw materials. However, this is complicated by volatile and fast-changing demand from overseas customers. New EU deforestation laws mean proof of origin is necessary for many raw materials. 

Le said that the whole process of certifying rattan forests, for example, could take between 15 and 18 months. Therefore, urgent action was necessary. 

While a short-term solution might appear to be importing essential materials from abroad to keep Vietnam’s artisans in work, regional neighbors like Laos and Indonesia have banned the export of raw rattan making this difficult. 

Vietnam is also keen to add as much value as possible from its own raw materials to generate income for farmers.  Vietnam is the world’s third-largest rattan producer after Indonesia and Malaysia. Rattan is used in products such as baskets, birdcages, wickerwork furniture, and woven mats. 

The material is waterproof and water-resistant, making it ideal for outdoor furniture sets, and it is also UV-resistant. 

 

How Hong Kong designers are innovating with sustainable fabrics 

Natural dyes extracted from foods like pomegranates, black turtle beans, and fish skin leather are among Hong Kong designers’ contributions to new sustainable fabrics, South China Morning Post reports. 

As alternative sustainable leathers become increasingly on trend in the world of fashion and beyond, designers worldwide are looking for inspiration in natural materials. Hong Kong-based fashion designer Kinyan Lam specializes in extracting dyes from diverse materials ranging from onion skins to chestnuts.  

“People assume that natural colors are dull or grey, but that is not the case,” he told the SCMP. 

Another Hong Kong designer, Noelle Lee, is working with salmon skin leather – and is one of a group of designers resurrecting a craft that was once widespread but has been forgotten in many parts of the world. Once treated, fish skin makes a more robust leather by weight than many more conventional types owing to its crosswise fiber structure. 

Unlike cow leather, which takes months to prepare and loses its odor, fish leather is ready within two weeks of tanning. These are some reasons why fish leather is an attractive material for niche boutique brands. Fish skin frequently goes to waste or ends up in landfills. 

Many companies worldwide have been developing vegan bio-based leather alternatives to animal and plastic leather. Some are small exploratory startups, while others have secured funding to begin scaling up production.  

Some firms specializing in mycelium leather and plant-based leather are beginning to scale production. 

 

We at Ship4wd are dedicated to helping small and mid-sized businesses get the most out of their shipping processes. Regardless of their experience in logistics, business owners can count on us to get their shipments to where they need them.

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