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Global supply chain crisis could last another two years, warn experts

As some bottlenecks ease others are just starting, meaning the post-pandemic economy ‘won’t return to normal any time soon’

China’s Ningbo Zhoushan port in Zhejiang province
China’s Ningbo Zhoushan port in Zhejiang province, a key shipping hub. A new Covid outbreak in the region has raised fears of further delays in the global shipping system. Photograph: China Stringer Network/Reuters

In Britain it’s alcohol, in Canada it’s maple syrup, while in Australia it’s a crucial additive for diesel trucks, and in New Zealand it’s brown sugar. These are just some of the many shortages affecting consumers and businesses around the world as industry experts warn that the supply chain crisis prompted by the coronavirus pandemic could last for many more months and even up to two years.

Although there are signs that some bottlenecks are easing, the onset of the Omicron Covid variant could lead to new shutdowns, sending another disruptive spasm through the global system.

The gravest appears to be an outbreak of Covid this week in the Chinese manufacturing hub of Zhejiang, which is home to the world’s largest cargo port, Ningbo-Zhoushan. Tens of thousands are in quarantine under China’s strict zero-Covid policy and some local authorities have urged workers not to travel home “unnecessarily” for lunar new year festival in February. “Further supply chain disruption is a significant possibility,” economic analysts at Capital Economics said in a note.

Industry experts and economists believe the problems could persist as the finely calibrated network of world trade, already weakened by months of shipping backlogs, labour shortages and geopolitical tensions, remains “discombobulated”.

Maersk, one of the big three shipping companies, said the worst delays were still on the US west coast where ships were waiting four weeks to unload due to the lack of workers on land.

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