A port pile-up that will impact essential goods coming in and out of New Zealand is predicted by the Road Transport Forum (RTF).
RTF chief executive Nick Leggett says that all freight needs to keep moving and the Government needs to recognise that.
“Truck drivers are providing an essential service. If the Government wants essential goods to have freedom of movement at this critical time, they cannot tinker with freight definitions,” Leggett says.
He says that while their industry supports the State of National Emergency to prevent the spread of Covid-19, he wants to ensure Government officials understand the complexity of the issue.
“Closing down the country to the scale we have now hasn’t been done before and it does reveal some issues that need to be addressed pragmatically,” says Leggett.
The road freight transport industry in New Zealand transports 93 percent of the total tonnes of freight moved within the country, while employing 32,868 people.
The ports in New Zealand operate in a specific way to ensure efficient use of shipping containers. With a large number of SMEs determined as non-essential by the New Zealand Government, a lot of freight and factories have shut down. This means the port is most likely to become increasingly full of dormant, imported goods until these SMEs can accept stock again.
Most retailers in New Zealand are not considered by the Government to be an ‘essential business’. Only essential businesses can trade during the four-week lockdown. Many retailers are keeping their ecommerce stores open, but as couriers won’t move goods from non-essential businesses, any goods purchased won’t be dispatched until after the lockdown is lifted.
“To explain this situation, ships arrive at ports in New Zealand and are unloaded,” says Leggett. “All manner of freight can be on one ship and even within one container. To make way for the cargo to go on that ship so it can leave, and for all the other cargo coming in at the same time, freight needs to be constantly moved off the ports.”
“We now have a situation where many businesses that receive some of that freight are closed and there is nowhere for it to go. If it is deemed by the Government to not be essential, it cannot be moved. Even by the end of this week, some ports will be struggling.”
Leggett says shipping from Asia has been gaining momentum again, especially the importation of vehicles to the Auckland port. There are expected to be 14,000 vehicles shipped to New Zealand in the next month and they are considered non-essential by the Government. “Those cars cannot stay on the port; they have to go somewhere. The dealers that would normally take them are closed. We appreciate cars are not an essential service, however, they are holding space that is needed for essential goods,” says Leggett.
The RTF is trying to work with the Government to ensure road freight has the support required to ensure smooth operations of ports nationwide. Leggett says, “Our industry is looking at how we could find storage for the freight with nowhere to go, but we need the Government to allow that freight to move.”