New Articles

2024 Outlook: Navigating Challenges and Seizing Opportunities 

2024 supply chain

2024 Outlook: Navigating Challenges and Seizing Opportunities 

There is optimism that the world economy will rebound in 2024 after a turbulent last few years, but this positivity isn’t necessarily trickling over to the logistics sector, where there remains a sense of uncertainty and apprehension among many global business leaders.

Amidst ongoing geopolitical conflict, labor disputes, and shifting supply trends, global trade leaders are bracing for a new year likely to bring new challenges. However, for leaders who have taken proactive action and worked to fortify their supply chains, there is hope they can play their part in a global trade rebound in the coming year.

To capitalize, supply chain leaders should be watchful of three trends that will impact their business, the global trade environment, and the world economy for the foreseeable future.

Ongoing threats to the global trade landscape.

The COVID-19 pandemic illuminated the importance of planning and diversification in supply chains, lessons that have been reinforced over the last several years. While backlogs and delays related to the pandemic have ended, ongoing global conflict is creating a new cascade of delays. Namely, the conflict in the Red Sea which is creating complexities around crucial shipping lanes which will impact capacity globally. Additionally, the Russia-Ukraine war continues to be top of mind for many shippers in and around Europe.  

Beyond global conflict, unpredictability in weather patterns and the erratic nature of the global environment remains a common concern. The current crisis in the Panama Canal – where historic drought is triggering delays in a part of the world where 5% of global sea trade and over 40% of U.S. container traffic passes through – is a stark reminder of the volatility of the global supply chain. With the crisis expected to last well into 2024, supply chain leaders need to ensure they have visibility into their supply chain and a plan that can keep them adaptable and resilient in the face of changing circumstances. 

A continued expansion of nearshoring activity.

Nearshoring has become a hot topic in the global economic landscape, and this trend doesn’t appear to be slowing anytime soon. Instead, nearshoring activity is ramping up, with Mexico alone seeing $29 billion of foreign direct investment in the first half of 2023, an increase of 5.6% from the year prior. But Mexico is one of many countries likely to see continued foreign investment. India and Southeast Asia are becoming hotbeds for business and economic growth.

Aside from a shift in foreign investment hubs, new industries aim to take advantage in 2024. The automotive industry and parts suppliers have been the main power players in the nearshoring boom up to this point, particularly among American and Asian companies. Still, other industries are strengthening their diversification through nearshoring activity. The healthcare and technology industries, namely electronic equipment and accessories, are expected to increase nearshoring activity this year. 

For leaders looking to take advantage, it’s essential to consider many infrastructure and procurement requirements that must be weighed before investing in Mexico or another region. Fortunately, there are resources from those who have been shipping to/from these regions for decades and know the nuances and challenges that shippers need to be aware of. We’ve already assisted many shippers in these endeavors and developing a cross-border strategy that mitigates the risks of relocating their supply chain.

Increased business focus on sustainability.

Sustainability initiatives are now business priorities for many global companies. Increased consumer preference for sustainability practices coupled with new regional regulations and stricter ESG requirements from the European Union mean that all global leaders need to have, or at the very least be thinking through, a sustainability strategy. 

Leaders must be aware of the new and pending regulations, most notably the EU’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) law, which requires that all EU importers report carbon emissions related to the production of certain products. Additionally, as of January 1, 2024, carriers shipping to, from, or within the European Economic Area (EEA) are subject to the EU’s new Emission Trading System (ETS) regulations which expanded to include maritime shipping. 

As more international shippers look for ways to address their own sustainability targets, logistics partners are expanding their capabilities to help. Tools like the Emissions IQ can allow businesses to understand their carbon footprint better and identify reduction areas. Digital tools can also help shippers build a long-term plan by developing key performance indicators and benchmarks that will keep the supply chain moving wherever they are in their sustainability journey. 

The global logistics landscape is constantly changing, and while we don’t know everything that lies ahead in 2024, leaders should understand how these trends impact their business. Doing so will keep the supply chain agile regardless of whichever way the winds of the global economy blow. 



2021 Has Felt Like One Big Peak Season: A Global Shipping Market Update

For global freight shippers, managing disruption comes with the job. But the challenges of the last year have truly been out of the ordinary. Supply chain disruptions that consist of port and terminal congestion, shipping delays due to high cargo volumes, lack of labor due to Covid-19 and limited space have caused a myriad of challenges for shippers.

For many, it has felt like one big, never-ending peak season, and they’re all asking when will things get better and what can they do in the interim, especially as we head into pre-holiday shipping.

Unfortunately, disruptions and delays likely won’t be ending soon. But there are best practices that all shippers can follow to navigate the pre-holiday rush. Let’s start with an update on the current air and ocean market situation as we head into fall.

Ocean Shipping

Ocean demand continues to exceed global capacity, with no sign of slowing down. This is compounded by port congestion, largely unreliable and inflexible schedules, and pandemic-driven labor challenges at major ports. But these issues aren’t a product of the pandemic alone.

In 2015, there were roughly 17 global ocean carriers. After mergers and consolidations, only 9 remain in 2021. Those 9 have been further consolidated into three alliances that control over 80% of the global containerized market. As a result, there are limited options for getting space on vessels and lower flexibility across vessel schedules due to the number of ships in rotation and the lack of available containers.

Globally, schedule reliability in ocean shipping is at the lowest we’ve ever seen. Right now, the reliability that a vessel carrying goods will arrive on time is roughly 40%. At this time last year, it was over 80%. While ocean carriers are trying to stay on track to destinations by skipping ports or enabling blank sailings, improving the schedule systematically in time, their methods are negatively impacting customers trying to transport products out of high-traffic areas such as Asia in a timely manner.

Air Shipping

Lower levels of passenger air travel over the past year have created congestion at air cargo terminals worldwide.

Pandemic-induced travel restrictions reduced commercial air capacity dramatically. Instead of having weekly passenger flights that move cargo volume to a wider network of airports in smaller quantities, most freight is now consolidated at larger terminals in bigger quantities via freighters or charter flights.

Terminals are then receiving increasingly large waves of freight, pushing demand to an all-time high over this past summer while also having to navigate labor shortages. Today, some of the larger terminals such as Chicago are seeing up to two-week delays in the recovery of cargo.

In addition, changes in export screening standards in the U.S. are also creating backlogs and congestion at terminals that are exacerbated by a lack of warehouse capacities. Carriers have been tasked with picking up more screening activities than usual because some shippers may not be partnering with the right forwarder who can take care of the screening for them.

This increased screening is also at odds with expedited terminal timelines, which currently give carriers as little as 12 hours to move freight that traditionally would have had a 48-hour takeoff window. If problems are encountered during screening or transportation to the terminal that slow the timeline, congestion will follow.

What Now?

No one solution is going to bring an end to the challenges of today’s market. But there are a few proven best practices shippers can use to better navigate the current challenges:

Maintain a flexible approach and be open to different options

To stay on top of this market, global shippers must commit to maintaining a flexible approach toward moving their freight. Remaining open to new and different options, such as less-than-container-load (LCL) ocean shipping, different routings or air charters when needed, as well as on-the-spot troubleshooting, can significantly improve shipping outcomes.

For example, for one C.H. Robinson customer moving PPE (personal protective equipment), Thomas Scientific, air charters were a fast-shipping option that offered a great deal of flexibility for last-minute demand shifts during the pandemic. The team worked with airlines to charter passenger planes with the seats removed for cargo flights, which offered a creative alternative to crowded cargo flights and other shipping options.

Seek support from providers who can use information to your advantage

When needed, shippers should consider partnering with a logistics provider that can give data-driven market insights to drive smarter solutions for their business. Sometimes shippers aren’t aware of all their options and need quick help figuring out how to circumvent disruptions to keep current and future orders on track. We’ve seen these solutions play out with our global experts and technology platform, Navisphere, by providing shippers with the aggregated data and analysis they need to determine which ports or terminals to avoid and the right tactics to overcome unique challenges.

Closely collaborate and communicate with supply chain partners

In a market as challenging as this one, close collaboration and frequent communication with supply chain experts are critical. For example, we’ve seen shippers overcome a variety of new challenges this year because they allowed daily cross-functional meetings with our team and theirs. To develop robust solutions, both teams need to truly understand all aspects of shipping challenges and what a company is trying to achieve.

Final Thoughts

Shipping disruptions likely won’t be ending soon. It has taken the industry about a year to get to this point, so it’s safe to say that it may take just as long for things to revert to normal levels or to adjust to the higher demand. Shippers have had to become increasingly nimble and informed to create success throughout this past year, and they must commit to staying flexible and seeking alternative solutions to continue overcoming obstacles.


Mike Short was named president of global freight forwarding in May 2015. Short started in the global forwarding industry in 1997 and joined C.H. Robinson through the acquisition of Phoenix International in 2012. Prior to being named President, Mike served as Vice President, Global Forwarding – North America. Prior to joining C.H. Robinson, Short held a number of roles at Phoenix International, including Regional Manager, Sales Manager, and General Manager of the St. Louis office. He graduated from the University of Missouri in 1993 with a Bachelor of Arts in Business.


How Will Ocean and Air Market Conditions Affect Your Shipping Decisions?

Global transportation—like many industries—has faced unparalleled disruptions over the past year. Now, as we head into 2021, there are new and different challenges added to the mix.

Many of our global shipping customers are up against the clock with Chinese New Year (CNY) approaching, while also navigating potential changes from a new U.S. administration. Of course, fast-changing consumer behaviors, port congestion, and continued uncertainty around the impact of COVID-19 continue to bring changes to the market as well.

Today I’m going to focus on how the ocean and air shipping markets have been affected and steps you can take to successfully account for these and other events.

Greater market demand overall

The global logistics market is forecasted to grow over 17% in 2021. And only a month into the year, that growth seems to be on track due to heightened demand across major global trade lanes. Volumes between China and the United States have increased by 30% compared to this time last year. It is likely the demand will continue past CNY, which falls on February 12, this year.

We historically see a spike in demand before CNY, but this year looks different from past years. Many companies are stockpiling and replenishing stock rooms in the wake of COVID-19 disruptions. And with a continued need for PPE and the dramatic uptick in ecommerce shopping, it’s no wonder there’s greater amounts of freight being moved right now.

Demand and disruption in ocean shipping

Ocean shipping capacity and port congestion

You’re most likely to see the most congestion and capacity constraints when shipping via ocean service in early 2021.

Significant increase in demand and equipment shortages in Asia have led to longer dwell times for vessels, which inevitably delays export shipments. In the United States, carriers continue to reduce the amount of exports in order to reposition empties back to Asia. Additionally, the uptick in vessel accidents due to inclement weather has added to the delays. Companies whose freight went overboard are not the only ones impacted, in fact the recent incident with ONE APUS resulted in all remaining freight being unloaded in Japan for further inspection. Inspections and transloading are likely to add considerable delays to a container’s journey.

Historically, ocean carriers announce the percentage of capacity that will be removed from the market during CNY. However, with the continued high demand and equipment shortages likely to continue through March, carriers have announced they will only remove 2-4%. This is down from the average 15-20% that we’ve seen removed in previous years.

Demand and disruption in air shipping

COVID-19 vaccine distribution

Air passenger travel is still down, and capacity for air cargo remains tight. Today, COVID-19 vaccine distribution has had minimal impact on capacity, but we’re closely monitoring the situation as it could and likely will change rapidly.

The majority of COVID-19 vaccines will not require inter-continental airlift, however, when doses do need to be transported via air, many airlines are already prepared to reposition capacity. When this happens, expect heavy demand from both Europe and India. And if/when this capacity is pulled from today’s already tight air market, your global supply chain may need to pivot in response.

With new COVID-19 strains and outbreaks, many countries are now requiring pilots and airline crews to quarantine or limit overnight deliveries. These changes will likely add to the inconsistencies and put pressure on air freight costs.

Successfully overcome shipping challenges

Monitor global events

Shipping across borders inevitably means customs and global compliance will play a vital role in your supply chain. It’s important to keep abreast of the changing global trade climate so your company can remain compliant and avoid customs delays. This is especially true with a new U.S. administration in place and Brexit in full swing.

While President Biden has indicated he does not plan to focus on trade and tariff changes immediately, he has already expressed his intention to approach trade differently than the previous administration.

Additionally, shippers both in and out of the UK will need to stay up to date on changing regulations as Brexit continues to progress, and any change may directly impact many supply chains.

Establish a plan for disruptions

Despite the challenges, it is possible to mitigate delays due to congestion and equipment shortages. We’ve been able to help multiple customers avoid 10+ day delays by routing shipments through a different port or shifting freight across modes.

Instead of trying to keep up to date about market changes from several news sources, you can trust a single information source to help you see how market trends will impact capacity and pricing. C.H. Robinson’s Global Forwarding Insights webpage provides a clear picture of rapid shifts in ocean and air capacity by aggregating current market information, like I shared above, in one easy to view place. With trade lane level detail, these market insights provided by industry experts are presented with an easy to understand summary of past and present market conditions so you can maintain flexibility, adapt to potential disruptions, and prepare for the most complex shipping challenges.

To dig deeper, connect with your logistics provider to develop a disruption action plan which is key to creating an agile, flexible, and well-rounded supply chain.

new year

Ringing in the New Year: 2021’s Global Logistics Outlook

It’s safe to say that 2020 will not be a year easily forgotten. This past year has been full of adjustment. Around the globe, our personal and work lives were upended with very little warning. As the pandemic spread, spending time with friends and family, water cooler conversations with co-workers, and even dependence on a resilient supply chain turned out to be necessities we had taken for granted. And normal has yet to return.

As the New Year approaches, it’s time to look at ways you can make a smart plan for global shipping in 2021. But, before I share what the outlook for 2021 looks like, I want to say thank you to the ocean and air carriers, port and airport operators, truck drivers, customs agents, and the many other logistics professionals who work hard to bring a little normal to our doorsteps and grocery store shelves.

Current events impacting global shipping in 2021

“By staying on top of supply chain management trends and issues, you can make sure that your company can readily adapt to changes”. — FinancesOnline

Headlines and news can significantly impact trade—either regionally or globally. While it’s impossible to predict all that 2021 has in store, you can at a minimum prepare for the following:

The ongoing Brexit situation

If you export from the EU to the UK and vice-versa, Brexit will mean extra administration chores and delays for your shipments. It is also to be expected that new customs charges and other fees will be introduced as of January 1, 2020.

For more information about Brexit and the impact it may have on your business, read our recent blog on the topic.

Global trade and tariffs

There are several things that may influence trade and tariffs in the coming year.

For example, some significant changes were made to the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) recently, most notably that certain Thailand-origin goods are no longer GSP eligible as of December 1, 2020. More broadly, the entire GSP is scheduled to expire on December 31, 2020 if Congress does not renew.

Check out our Trade & Tariff Insights for more details on these and other updates.

Global demand for coronavirus vaccines

Of course, similar to 2020, the pandemic may be the largest disruptor on the shipping market again in 2021. Vaccines have started hitting some markets already and full global rollouts are expected in early Q1 2021.

The initial vaccine distribution will also coincide with the Chinese New Year when we historically see a large influx of retail merchandise ahead of the weeklong holiday in China.

With vaccines likely moving via air freight, we expect peripheral products, such as syringes, gauze, cotton to move via ocean, which could mean tightened capacity for both air and ocean shipments.

Expect challenges from 2020 to continue in 2021

Looking at the ongoing events around the world, many of the challenges we’ve experienced in 2020 are not going away—and there are potentially new challenges on the horizon. If there is one thing the supply chain industry needs to learn from these ongoing challenges, it is agility. Supply chains need to be flexible enough to absorb these shocks, major or minor, that comes on its way.

Through our technology and global suite of service offerings, including ocean, air, customs brokerage, trade compliance, and surface transportation, we help customers mitigate the unplanned risks and changes of global shipping. Our people are willing and eager to help you plan for shipping in the coming year.


Global Shipping Trends: What to Expect in 2020

Now that the fireworks are over and New Year’s resolutions are set, it’s time to prepare for global shipping in 2020. And that means looking at ongoing trends and changing regulations. One thing’s for sure, freight forwarding never has a dull moment.

Recapping 2019’s top global shipping disruptors

Before we jump into expectations for this year, let’s set the stage by looking at some of the top events in 2019 that may have affected global shipping strategies around the world.

Geopolitical uncertainties

From the ongoing Brexit discussion to the China-U.S. trade war and the trade conflict between Japan and Korea, these and other disruptions caused serious challenges to the transportation industry.

Preparation for International Maritime Organization (IMO) 2020

While the latest revisions didn’t go into effect until January 1, 2020, preparation for the changing IMO requirements was well underway in 2019. The requirement to reduce sulphur oxide emissions from 3.5% to 0.5% was a drastic change that will likely continue to affect shipping costs and capacity availability.

E-commerce expectations

With the growth of e-commerce and high-tech products flooding our markets, air freight is a go-to mode of transportation for many shippers—any time of year.

To best understand how these and other mode-specific changes will affect your 2020 shipping year, let’s break them down by service.

Ocean service in 2020

In the past, ocean shipping followed the basic law of supply and demand. When demand increased, rates went up. When demand decreased, rates dropped. This often occurred regardless of carrier profitability. But that is changing, which could reshape expectations for 2020.

Carriers controlling capacity

Today’s ocean carriers are quick to withdraw capacity when demand changes. By adjusting the amount of equipment available, ocean carriers are better able to ensure demand remains tight enough to protect their profits. This is a successful technique because there are fewer ocean carriers than in the past, allowing for a quicker reaction when supply and demand shifts.

Increasing carrier costs

While ocean carriers can control capacity to help ensure rates remain compensatory, we can still expect some level of imbalance due to the IMO 2020 mandate, which increases carrier costs.

Driver and drayage capacity shortages

California Assembly Bill 5 (AB-5) went in effect on January 1, 2020, which limits the use of classifying workers as independent contractors rather than employees by companies in the state. This may affect the availability of the number of dray carriers in the busiest ports. This, in turn, can drive drayage costs up.

Air service in 2020

Last July, we posted about ongoing uncertainty in the air freight market. The good news is that air freight service has stabilized a bit since then. While we’re predicting a somewhat stable air freight market for the year, this could obviously change if there is some catalyst that changes the speed products need to come to market.

Stable demand expectations

We expect demand for air freight to remain stable for the time being. Many organizations continue to focus on managing expenses and are looking for cost-effective, efficient options for delivering on short timelines without breaking the budget.

Capacity to hold steady

Capacity will also likely remain stable. Most new capacity is coming in the form of lower deck. Pure freighter capacity will continue to move based on market yields that make sense from a carrier standpoint. There may be some capacity growth in off-market locations, based on passenger demand.

Customs compliance in 2020

It’s always smart to have a customs compliance program that aligns with your business goals, which is especially true this year. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) has several customs changes slated to take place in 2020, and now’s the time to prepare. If you haven’t reviewed your customs program recently, our customs compliance checklist may help.

CBP moving away from ITRAC data

According to CBP, they will be eliminating Importer Trade Activity (ITRAC) reports in favor of the Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) system. If you don’t already have an ACE portal account, now is the time to get one to ensure all your customs data is available to you when you need it most.

CBP’s continued focus on compliance and enforcement

CBP will continue to scrutinize tariff classification and valuation in an increasing post-summary environment. As the United States Trade Representative (USTR) continues to provide exclusions, many importers will depend on brokers to submit refund requests via post summary corrections (PSCs) or protests. CBP often requires additional data and/or documentation to ensure that tariff classifications and valuations are correct. It is imperative that you maintain a high degree of confidence in your compliance program and can substantiate any post summary claims with CBP.

Increasing Importer Security Filing (ISF) penalties

Throughout 2019 we saw CBP issuing more ISF penalties for inaccurate and/or untimely submissions. This will likely continue and could become a growing issue in 2020.

Disruptors affecting the industry in 2020

While certain trends and regulations only directly affect a single mode or service, there are still plenty that affect freight forwarding in general. Looking at 2020, it’s probably safe to say that the following disruptors will continue to affect the year ahead.

Broadening of sourcing locations

While there may be an end in sight to some of the trade war uncertainties, the initiative to broaden sourcing locations beyond China will likely continue. Southeast Asia has already seen clear benefits of this and will likely continue to see manufacturing growth in 2020.

Switching sourcing strategies can also bring risks, including capacity availability, infrastructure support, and geopolitical stability. While China will continue to be the largest exporter into the United States, we simply cannot deny the trends that continue to show volume shrinkage from China.

Accelerated evolution of technology

Significant investment in technology and transportation platforms continues to accelerate across the industry. Beyond private equity groups, well-respected and established providers like C.H. Robinson are making investments that will reshape logistics. These growing technological investments will continue to create value across the supply chain.

While this opens new options for shippers and carriers alike, you may likely need to spend more time researching which technology option is the best fit for your own organization. After all, the right technology offers tailored, market-leading solutions that work for supply chain professionals and drive supply chain outcomes.

Prepare for the year ahead

Overall, 2020 will be a great year for strategizing. Continuous improvement efforts—including a close look at service levels and mode choices—will help reach your short- and long-term supply chain goals.

Looking for a provider that can help in the coming year? C.H. Robinson has a global suite of services backed by technology and people you can rely on that will make 2020 preparations smooth and effective. Connect with an expert today.