Christmas was saved from the supply chain bottleneck. The next challenge: Lunar New Year

The supply chain nightmare hasn’t canceled Christmas, but another holiday crisis is looming: the Lunar New Year.

Lawmakers and port officials accompanying U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg at the Port of Long Beach during a visit last week acknowledged ongoing problems with shipping, unloading and delivering cargo across the country, including the challenge of getting local ports – a major bottleneck – to operate around the clock.

And although a holiday crisis seems to have been averted, a new wave of cargo from Chinese manufacturers is expected to flood American ports before Chinese businesses close their doors to celebrate the year of the tiger from February 1.

The wave of freighters carrying goods to American consumers is expected to reach the West Coast in the next two to three weeks. On Jan. 11, as Buttigieg praised local officials for measures that eased bottlenecks over the holiday season, 60 freighters slowed offshore near the Port of Long Beach, waiting their turn to dock.

The supply chain crisis is not over, Port of Los Angeles executive director Gene Seroka said during a Port of Long Beach tour with Buttigieg.

“Nobody does a lap of honor,” he said in an interview. “Nobody claps their hands.”

A key hurdle: Authorities have been unable to keep ports running around the clock, as planned and announced in October as part of a Biden administration strategy to deal with the chain crisis supply before the holiday period.

Under the plan, some ports expect to nearly double the number of hours cargo is moved from container ships to highways by working crews through the night, members of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union providing the extra shifts.

But Seroka said the effort has been hampered at the Port of Los Angeles because most elements of the supply chain — including warehouse operators and truck drivers — don’t work 24 hours a day. 24, which makes it difficult to accept goods in the middle ports. of the night when the workers are not available to receive the products. To make matters worse, he said, there has been a shortage of truck drivers and warehouse workers since the pandemic began.

“It’s the private sector that has to drive this,” he said.

Buttigieg also acknowledged that more work is needed to fix the supply chain issue.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, he said ports needed more funding to upgrade their facilities and adjacent railroads and roads to reduce bottlenecks during the next surge of freight.

“We have to be ready for the unexpected,” he said.

Buttigieg visited the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to provide an update on solutions to the supply chain problem, which stemmed from the COVID-19 outbreaks that forced the closure of many manufacturers and ports in Asia, which was then slow to recover to respond to the rebound in American demand.

Once goods started arriving by sea at record pace, ports were flooded and unable to unload and distribute goods fast enough. The Biden administration, port officials and others have taken several steps to reduce the backlog, including imposing fines on shippers who let cargo containers clog docks and developing a plan to operate the ports 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Together, the two sprawling ports are responsible for handling almost half of all imports into the United States, making them a key part of logistics networks strained by the coronavirus crisis.

Buttigieg’s visit caps a series of efforts to reduce the supply chain backlog.

Port officials began November 15 to impose a fee on containers that remain for more than six days if destined for rail transport or nine days if destined for trucks. Shipping carriers who brought in these unused containers face fines of $100 the first day after the deadline, $200 the day after, and so on.

Since Nov. 1, the number of idle cargo containers clogging the Port of Long Beach has been reduced by more than 40 percent, said Mario Cordero, the port’s executive director. No fines have yet been levied as the threat is working, he said.

Seroka said the mere threat of fines has reduced the number of cargo containers at the Port of Los Angeles by 60% since Oct. 24.

Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracks cash and debit card payments, reported in late December that holiday sales were up 8.5% from a year earlier, a point that officials say illustrates how Supply chain issues haven’t hampered holiday spending. Clothes and jewelry purchases drove the results, which covered the period from November 1 to December 24. Holiday sales were up 10.7% compared to the holiday season of 2019, before the pandemic.

Buttigieg played a leading role for the Biden administration in solving the supply chain problem.

In December, Buttigieg announced $52.3 million in infrastructure grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation to make improvements to the Port of Long Beach.

Speaking in Los Angeles, Buttigieg told the crowd that as long as the country is battling a pandemic, the supply chain will not be problem-free.

“Supply chains are human,” he said. “Supply chains are people.”

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