In its Review of Maritime Transport for 2021, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said that the current surge in container freight rates, if sustained, could increase global import price levels by 11% and consumer price levels by 1.5% between now and 2023.

The impact of the high freight charges will be greater in small island developing states (SIDS), which could see import prices increase by 24% and consumer prices by 7.5%. In least developed countries (LDCs), consumer price levels could increase by 2.2%.

By the end of 2020, freight rates had surged to unexpected levels. This was reflected in the Shanghai Containerized Freight Index (SCFI) spot rate. 

For example, SCFI spot rate on the Shanghai-Europe route was less than $1,000 per TEU in June 2020, jumped to about $4,000 per TEU by the end of 2020, and rose to $7,552 per TEU by the end of November 2021. 

Furthermore, freight rates are expected to remain high due to continued strong demand combined with supply uncertainty and concerns about the efficiency of transport and ports.

According to the latest report from Sea-Intelligence, a Copenhagen-based maritime data and advisory company, ocean freight may take more than two years to return to normal levels.

The high rates will also impact on low-value-added items such as furniture, textiles, clothing and leather products, whose production is often fragmented across low-wage economies well away from major consumer markets. The UNCTAD predicts consumer price increases of 10.2% on these.

The Review of Maritime Transport is an UNCTAD flagship report, published annually since 1968. It provides an analysis of structural and cyclical changes affecting seaborne trade, ports and shipping, as well as an extensive collection of statistics from maritime trade and transport.