Biden looks to break the US supply chain bottleneck

Opening key US ports around the clock could be a "game-changer" for country's supply chain

US President Joe Biden speaks about efforts to address global supply chain bottlenecks at the White House in Washington. AFP
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US President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that two of the biggest ports in the US, the Port of Los Angeles and the Port of Long Beach, will begin operating around the clock in what could be a “game changer” for the country's supply chain.

Forty per cent of shipping containers that enter the US arrive via these two ports, Mr Biden said in his speech.

“I want to be clear. This is an across-the-board commitment to going to 24/7. This is a big first step,” Mr Biden said. “But now we need the rest of the private sector chain to step up as well. This is not called a supply chain for nothing.”

In a meeting earlier on Wednesday, Mr Biden brought together power brokers from ports, unions and big business to discuss how to speedily address a backlog of products that includes 500,000 containers on cargo ships waiting to be offloaded at the clogged ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Moving merchandise around the clock will account for more hours for workers, but goods could also be transported faster during off-peak hours when motorways are significantly less jammed, Mr Biden said.

He also called on retailers to help speed the shipment of goods around the US.

“We need major retailers who ordered the goods and the freight movers who take the goods from the ships to factories and the stores to step up as well,” he said.

Mr Biden noted that FedEx, UPS, Walmart, Target, Home Depot and Samsung have all committed to increase off-peak hours to accelerate the transport of goods.

“So, the commitments being made today are a sign of major progress in moving goods from manufacturers to a store or to your front door,” he said.

“And now we need the rest of the private sector chain to step up as well.”

The goal, Mr Biden said, is not only to address the immediate concern heading into the holiday season but to resolve the supply crisis exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

White House officials, scrambling to relieve global supply bottlenecks, say that Americans may face higher prices and some empty shelves this Christmas season and are urging patience.

Part of the solution, Mr Biden said, would to invest more in making products domestically so as to not be too reliant on overseas partners.

“Never again should we have to rely too heavily on one company or one person in the world, particularly when countries don't share our values when it comes to labour and environmental standards,” Mr Biden said, perhaps in a veiled reference to China.

The White House has been trying to tackle inflation-inducing supply bottlenecks of everything from meat to semiconductors. A task force headed by John Porcari was formed in June and meets weekly to push private-sector companies to find ways to get goods flowing.

Thousands of shipping containers are on cargo ships offshore waiting to be offloaded in Los Angeles and Long Beach. Similar backlogs exist at ports in New York and Savannah, Georgia.

A shortage of warehouse workers and lorry drivers is partly to blame.

Reuters contributed to this report

Updated: October 13, 2021, 9:12 PM