AVAILABILTY of food-grade and reefer containers is likely to tighten as reduced demand for imports forces shipping lines to reduce services to Australia, Shipping Australia CEO Rod Nairn believes.

In a statement posted online, Mr Nairn said there was clearly a reduction in forward import orders towards the end of this month and thus the likelihood of significantly reduced shipping volumes to Australia occurring after April.

“Shipping Australia expects that reduced demand for imports will force lines to reduce their services in order to survive,” Mr Nairn wrote.

“This is likely to impact on the availability of equipment such as food grade and reefer containers for export and on the availability of slots to and plugs for exports.

Mr Nairn called for the government to consider a subsidy for shipping lines and/or exports and imports, to ensure the continuity of shipping remained viable.

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He also called for the prompt return of empty containers.

Freight and Trade Alliance director and Australian Peak Shippers Association secretariat Paul Zalai backed the call for the timely return of empty containers but also said the lines had to come to the party.

“We trust that shipping lines will give appropriate leniency to importers, on a case by case basis, as we are facing unique operational conditions and face the high risk of disruption to an already fragile international trade supply chain,” Mr Zalai said.

“While state government and port corporations are currently contingency planning and examining staging sites as required to store containers in the event of operational failures, this will be a futile exercise if goods cannot be cleared from customs control areas.”

Mr Zalai said there was a serious risk with customs brokers no longer accepting the cash-flow imposition of making up-front import statutory charge payments and recouping costs from importers on a disbursement basis.

“We are working with Treasury, the Australian Border Force and the Australian Taxation Office to develop appropriate COVID-19 measures to allow for the deferral of duty, GST and Import Processing Charges,” he said.

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