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Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

America's supply chain crisis, which has driven prices higher and made all sorts of goods harder to find, may last long after the holiday season.

The big picture: If goods aren't off a boat by now, it's highly unlikely that they'll make it onto store shelves before Christmas. And there are dozens and dozens of ships anchored offshore at the country's biggest ports.

Around 40% of U.S. container imports come through the Ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles, but they aren't operating at full capacity.

Details: During an "Axios on HBO" visit last Tuesday morning, at least half of the visible terminal cranes were standing upright, which means they weren't removing containers from ships. The problems are legion and interconnected.

  • U.S. consumers are buying more goods than ever before, thus increasing the number of arriving containers.
  • There aren't enough trucks to remove all of the containers from the yards, which means cranes are forced to stop removing containers from ships.
  • And all of this is exacerbated by a labor shortage, including both truckers and terminal mechanics, overstuffed warehouses, and an antiquated system that requires trucks to pick up a specific container within a specific time window (despite L.A. freeway traffic).

What happens next: Some consumer demand may wane after the holidays, helping the ports begin to catch up, but there are three more major trouble spots on the horizon:

1. The labor contract representing around 15,000 West Coast port workers expires next summer.

  • This could be a very difficult negotiation, given the reinvigorated U.S. labor movement and the fact that freight shippers are generating massive profits — charging top dollar to desperate importers.
  • Prior negotiations, in 2014, resulted in port shutdowns. It was bad then, but would be worse this time given the existing backups.

2. The International Maritime Organization, which oversees global ocean freight, has been implementing new rules whereby ships must reduce their carbon footprints (which contribute around 2.5% of global emissions).

  • Some new technologies and fuels have been developed, but ships most commonly meet these goals by slowing down.

3. There could be a reverse logjam next year in Asia.

  • Normally, a cargo ship would unload in Long Beach and then get filled back up with empty containers before returning to Asia.
  • Today, however, the same problems plaguing ship unloading also applies to re-loading. Too little yard space, too few trucks, chasses, etc. The result is that some ships are leaving without enough empties, which could eventually impact the amount of cargo that's able to leave Asia for U.S. ports.

The bottom line: Time alone won't solve the supply chain crisis.

Go deeper.

Go deeper

Updated Nov 28, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Dems fear supply-chain blame

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As supply-chain kinks drive up prices and disrupt holiday shopping, Democrats are scrambling to show action and deflect blame.

Why it matters: With their party controlling both the White House and Capitol, vulnerable Democrats worry supply-chain snafus will hurt them in next year's midterms.

Updated 50 mins ago - World

Myanmar's deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi sentenced to 4 years in prison

An anti-coup protest in Yangon, Myanmar.Photo: Hkun Lat/Getty Images

A Myanmar court sentenced the country's ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, on Monday to four years in prison on charges of "inciting public unrest" and breaking COVID-19 protocols, per the New York Times.

Why it matters: It's the first of several verdicts that could result in the 76-year-old Nobel laureate being imprisoned for the rest of her life. The 11 charges she faces have been widely criticised as politically motivated.

4 hours ago - World

Pope Francis denounces European governments' migrant response

Pope Francis adresses refugees at the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos on Sunday. Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Pope Francis criticized European countries' response to migrants and asylum seekers during his visit to a refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos Sunday.

Why it matters: The pope said "migration is a humanitarian crisis that concerns everyone," but little had changed in the global response to displaced peoples since his first visit to Lesbos five years ago, per a transcript of his remarks. "Human lives, real people, are at stake. ... let us stop this shipwreck of civilization!"