Baltimore Sun

Ida could strain global supply chain even more

Few available trucks now diverted to deliver relief supplies to storm-hit areas

- By Peter S. Goodman

In normal times, the devastatio­n of a massive hurricane like Ida tends to be followed by an aggressive rebuilding effort, as carpenters, roofers and other skilled workers descend on affected communitie­s to repair the damage.

These are not normal times.

With the global supply chain besieged by trouble — extreme shipping delays, persistent product shortages and soaring costs — constructi­on teams are likely to struggle to secure needed goods. At the same time, the hurricane’s damage to critical industries in the Gulf Coast area and the urgent need to rebuild are expected to cascade through the country’s already strained shipping infrastruc­ture.

“The supply was already terrible,” said Eric Byer, the president of the National Associatio­n of Chemical Distributo­rs, a trade associatio­n representi­ng 400 companies that make and sell raw materials used in a vast array of industries, including constructi­on and pharmaceut­icals. “Now, it’s going to be worse.”

For months, a surge of trade from Asia to the United States has exhausted the supply of shipping containers, forcing buyers to pay 10 times the usual rate on popular routes like Shanghai to Los Angeles.

As dockworker­s have contracted COVID19 or have landed in quarantine, loading and unloading at ports has been constraine­d. The pandemic has sidelined truck drivers, limiting the availabili­ty of vehicles that can carry products from ports to warehouses to customers. Hurricane Ida will almost certainly make this situation worse, as available trucks are diverted en masse toward affected communitie­s to deliver relief supplies. No one questions the merits of this course, but it will leave even fewer trucks available to carry goods everywhere else, intensifyi­ng already-profound shortages.

“The domestic trucking situation has been bad for some time, and the hurricane will add to that,” said Megan Gluth-Bohan, the chief executive of TRInternat­ional, an importer and distributo­r of chemicals just outside Seattle. “You’re going to see more logjams at the ports.”

Her company relies on a supplier in Taiwan for hydrocarbo­n resins, selling

them to U.S. manufactur­ers that make paints, varnishes and other coatings. She brings in chemicals from Thailand that are included in industrial cleaning products and imports so-called glycols that are used in food products, makeup and industrial coatings.

“These are the raw materials that make everything,” Gluth-Bohan said.

“It’s going to have a significan­t impact,” she said. “Companies that make coatings, paint, shingles or treated lumber — a lot of these companies are going to have to slow down.”

Part of the impact is a result of where the storm landed. The Gulf of Mexico is home to refineries and plants that make all manner of industrial chemicals — a fact brought home last winter, when an intense freeze knocked factories out of commission, yielding product shortages that still endure.

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