Scotland is a net exporter of goods and its industry depends heavily on empty shipping containers with which to transport these goods to market. However, fewer containers are currently available, thereby heaping pressure on Scotland’s supply chain and that could harm the environmental credentials of the businesses therein, according to the Freight Transport Association (FTA).
FTA’s Scottish Supply Chain Forum (SSCF) has set up a working group comprising shippers, shipping lines, logistics service providers, and rail and road freight hauliers, to tackle the issue. Chris MacRae, FTA’s Head of Policy for Scotland, said:
"The recession has meant that fewer containers are coming from the Far East into the UK’s southern ports, like Felixstowe, and then being moved around the country. This is constraining the supply of newly emptied containers with which the producers of whisky, shortbread and other such Scottish comestibles rely on to export their goods.
"By bringing the various and significant component parts of Scotland’s supply chain around the table, we have been able to look at the problem from all sides and proffer potential solutions which will only help to improve these businesses’ efficiencies and their overall environmental performance."
One of the ideas discussed at SSCF earlier this month was a softening of the ‘container return’ policies of the shipping lines so that empty containers did not have to be returned to their port of entry upon being de-consolidated (emptied), which typically takes place in the Midlands in England. Instead, it is argued, these containers could be sent into Scotland where they can be filled first.
"Currently, most containers are returned to their port carrying nothing but fresh air. In order to reap the considerable carbon savings of avoiding what is the road, rail or coastal shipping equivalent of ’empty running’ and give Scottish businesses and retailers more choice and routes to market, it would make sense to capitalise on the fact that these containers are already halfway to a potential Scottish distribution point.
"The repositioning of empty containers requires an holistic approach from import and export trades for it to work effectively and is not going to be an easy fix, but by drawing the views of all parties via the working group and the SSCF we are hopeful that we can find a win for the environment and for Scotland plc."