Asymmetries between Import and Export-Based Containerized Logistics
The long distance transportation of containers relying on the usage of
inland ports is facing an asymmetry between import-based and export-based
logistics. This is particularly the case in Europe and North America
where there is a significant difference between the nature of imports
and exports, implying that inbound and outbound logistics are based
on different commercial and operational premises:
Conversely to the above pattern, China is a mirror image with the
advantage that the export-based activities (mostly retail and manufactured
goods) are along the coast and highly clustered, lessening repositioning
Reconciling the availability of containers in a distribution system
where imports and exports logistics are very different is thus problematic,
with an enduring problem to find available maritime containers inland.
A hybrid solution involves using conventional bulk transport systems
to bring commodities to the gateway where they can be transloaded into
- Import-based containerized cargo tends to dominantly
concern retail goods, implying that the distribution pattern is
a function of the population density. Since the majority of the
population is urbanized, the distribution pattern is nodal but spread
over the geography. This characteristic incites transloading at
the gateways as massification advantages decline rapidly once an
inland terminal has been reached; each individual container eventually
find its way to a local or regional distribution center and its
wide customer base. Import-based logistics tend to have a high priority
as it is the segment that generates the most income for shippers.
Due to trade imbalances (high rate on inbound than outbound containers),
the value of the cargo and its timeliness it tends to carry a higher
premium than the backhaul cargo.
- Export-based containerized cargo tends to concern
commodities where the origins are a function of resource density.
They have a high level of concentration, but their locational characteristics
are very different than import flows (e.g. rural areas for grain
and even more remote areas for wood products). As per unit of mass
or volume, the cargo has a much lower value than inbound cargo,
implying that its capture has a lower priority for shippers managing
containerized assets. This cargo has however the advantage of being
less time constrained, unless related to the cold chain. The opportunities
of export-based containerized logistics are consequently much dependent
on the availability of containers inland and their repositioning.