Monrovia — In the midst of a massive gasoline shortage crippling the Liberian economy, the George Weah-led government is said to be taking steps to avert the potential of what many fear is a major shortage of another basic commodity, rice on the horizon.
With the volumes of ship leaving China taking a dip in the wake of the Coronavirus outbreak and lingering political tensions in Lebanon, some economic observers fear the ripple effect could spell into Liberia which imports a good quantity of rice from India, China and Lebanon.
Although India leads the rice imports in Liberia, the plummet in number of ships out of China is triggering concerns for the Weah-led government already struggling to deal with an ongoing gasoline crisis.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the coronavirus outbreak is taking a toll on industrial production as ocean carriers are bracing for financial blows from the diminished output.
The newspaper quoted Lars Jensen, head of Denmark-based maritime research group Sea-Intelligence as saying: "Substantially less cargo is being moved between China and the rest of the world. Last week we had an additional 30 sailings canceled, with 23 across the Pacific and the rest to Europe."
Mr. Jensen said the canceled trips, which have topped 50 since late January, will delay or reduce shipments into the U.S., where retailers may see a slowdown in their traditional restocking of inventories for the spring.
Last week, Sea-Intelligence reported that more than 350,000 containers have been removed from global trade since the outbreak of the virus led China to impose large travel restrictions at the end of the country's Lunar New Year holiday break.
Companies exporting goods into China are also facing problems because only a fraction of workers are back at work to handle goods arriving at ports. That has backed up cargo at terminals and warehouses at big gateways including Shanghai, Tianjin and Ningbo.
A group representing U.S. agriculture exporters warned its members this week to ensure that ocean carriers can store their goods on arrival in China, particularly items like meat, vegetables and fruit that require refrigeration. American exporters are seeing cargo backed up even at U.S. hubs because of the congestion in China's distribution networks.
The China Association of the National Shipbuilding Industry said more than 200 deliveries of ships under repairs or retrofitting could be pushed back. China is the world's biggest shipbuilder, with more than 960 vessels set to be delivered this year, according to data provider Vessels Value.