Global shippers will deal another blow to Russian store shelves

Shipping lines Maersk, MSC, Hapag-Lloyd, and Ocean Network Express — which together make up half of the world’s container shipping capacity — have suspended service to Russia, further isolating the country from global trade.

The decisions to halt service is a result of the escalating crisis in Ukraine, economic sanctions levied against Russia, and operational difficulties, like delays and detention of cargo by customs authorities checking for restricted items in countries like the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany.

Russia makes up about 3% of global containerized trade, according to Xeneta, a shipping data and analytics company, and cited by Bloomberg. The restriction in trade of containerized goods is likely to affect imports, impacting the quality of life for Russians across the board. Combined with the effect of bans on international payments and the plummeting value of the ruble, the curtailment of international shipping is likely to translate to fewer goods on Russian shelves.

Russia imports include cars and car parts, medicines, clothing, hard liquor and wine, toys, and furniture, according to the Observatory of Economic Complexity, a data platform for economic activity, and it imports the most from China and Germany.

The shipping suspension would not apply to food, medicine, or humanitarian aid, Maersk said in the statement announcing its suspension.

Even before the shipping companies finalized their decisions, many American and European companies had stopped doing business in Russia, including Apple, Volkswagen, Harley Davidson, and Nike. Apple has also restricted the use of its Apple Pay service.

Russia’s exports of commodities like oil, wheat, and metals are handled by tankers and dry bulk vessels, rather than container ships, and there are reports that some of these vessels are likewise limiting new bookings to and from Russian ports.

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