THE UNITED Conference on Trade and Development called for more transparency and called for authorities to monitor freight rates and market behaviour.

In its Policy Brief 84, UNCTAD said the pandemic took the industry by surprise and there were no contingency plans in place to mitigate the lack of container availability. It predicts it will be “several months” before the disruption passes.

UNCTAD said container rates are at historic highs, and the obstruction of the Suez Canal by Ever Given for six days contributed to a recent surge in freight rates.

The brief points out that carriers are earning high rates of return during the pandemic and there are myriad reasons for the causes of this, but UNCTAD said governments must keep a close eye on the carriers for anti-competitive behaviour.

“Shippers have emphasised that they do not have access to empty containers for exports and face blank sailings, as well as high freight rates, and competition authorities are investigating potentially abusive behaviours,” the brief states.

“It is … important to ensure that national competition authorities can monitor freight rates and market behaviour.”

Tracking and tracing of containers is another key point the brief discusses. The authors wrote that the recent shortage in containers and maritime equipment took stakeholders by surprise.

“Policymakers need to promote transparency and encourage collaboration along the maritime supply chain, while also ensuring that potential market power abuse is kept in check or prevented,” the brief states.