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FMC commissioner to examine China’s role in container shortage

The United States is beginning to question whether China is to blame for the box shortages plaguing global supply chains this year.

At a virtual meeting hosted by the Intermodal Association of North America (IANA) last week, Federal Maritime Commissioner Carl Bentzel said he is exploring how China is involved in the container shortage that has been an issue for many months at US ports. Bentzel said that he believes that China may be manipulating the market to control the availability of containers.

He said at last week’s meeting: “I am concerned that this equipment is controlled by a state-owned enterprise and that we’re completely reliant, and I have questions about whether or not there’s been market manipulation of what is potentially a monopoly. We really need to take a look at our reliance on that segment of the industry, and evaluate how important it is to our nation.”

Six months ago, in November 2020, Bentzel said on the same topic, “I would note with concern that most intermodal chassis and marine containers are manufactured in China. I find it hard to believe, with the full restoration of Chinese manufacturing that has come roaring back, creating volume surges, that the marine equipment segment has lagged so far behind.”

Although FMC Chairman Daniel Maffei asked Bentzel to lead an inquiry into this issue, Bentzel is doing so as an individual commissioner, FMC spokesperson John DeCrosta clarified for Splash. The assignment is not an official commission undertaking, approved and initiated through a vote by the commissioners.

Demand for new containers remains strong, confirming a report from last year from maritime consultancy Drewry with output in 2021 expected to leap as much as 40%, principally out of China, with further growth anticipated in subsequent years.

One container shipping expert also told Splash earlier this year: “Currently there is some demand for additional production. Longer term the global container fleet will remain at around 1.6 times the liner ship capacity.”

Kim Biggar

Kim Biggar started writing in the supply chain sector in 2000, when she joined the Canadian Association of Supply Chain & Logistics Management. In 2004/2005, she was project manager for the Government of Canada-funded Canadian Logistics Skills Committee, which led to her 13-year role as communications manager of the Canadian Supply Chain Sector Council. A longtime freelance writer, Kim has contributed to publications including The Forwarder, 3PL Americas, The Shipper Advocate and Supply Chain Canada.


  1. I think we all know that this sort of grandstanding by American political figures is intended for their domestic constituency and should be ignored. We all know what the real problem is, and it doesn’t lie in China, but telling the FMC to look into expediting box turn arounds in the USA will do no good.

    It’s interesting, taking a long view, that the box to slot ratio has fallen over time. At the dawn of containerisation it was 3, forty years ago it was 2.2, now it’s 1.6…

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