How Supply Chains Broke, Sparking Global Shortages

As the world emerged from the pandemic, China recovered faster than other countries, so more containers were raced there as manufacturers tried to catch up. But when they arrived in U.S. ports such as Los Angeles, delays related to Covid-19 clogged one of trade’s main thoroughfares, just as stores tried to meet suddenly soaring demand. Backlogs at truck yards and railroad hubs were compounded by dockworkers calling in sick and shortages of truck drivers. By early 2021, the disruptions had spread to other regions, including Europe. The crisis was worsened by the freak grounding of a giant vessel in the Suez Canal in March, blocking the route in both directions for about a week. Delays are more than just a headache for importers waiting for their goods — they sap capacity from the system, which keeps rates elevated.

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