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150,000 Empty Containers Piled up in Russia

The huge trade imbalance between China and Russia since the invasion of Ukraine has led to some 150,000 teu of empty boxes becoming stranded in Russia.

According to new analysis from online box platform Container xChange, the surge of Chinese exports into Russia since it launched its war on Ukraine, has left Chinese exporters scrambling to find available equipment, while the price of second-hand of containers in Russia has crashed.

“There is significant cargo movement from China into Russia, but very scarce movement back,” said Christian Roeloffs, co-founder and CEO of Container xChange.

“Containers are piling up in Russia, which means that second-hand prices are very low there – you see a 40ft high-cube container on sale in Moscow for less than $1,000, while in other parts of the world it is almost double, or more.”

The latest data shows the difference in second-hand box prices to be even starker: immediately prior to the Ukraine invasion, the average price of a 40ft high-cube container in Moscow was $4,175, whereas at the beginning of this week it was $580, and Mr Roeloffs said this was reflected by the growing stacks of empty containers, apparently marooned in Russia.

“Currently there are around 150,000, and everybody is looking for an opportunity to return containers back to China. All containers from Russia to China go with a pickup charge,” he said.

“Many Chinese companies are selling containers below market price to get rid of them, since it doesn’t make sense to send them back to China. From Moscow to Shanghai, the offline market offer is around $1,500 for new containers. If cargo-worthy containers are in good condition and cost less, they prefer to sell the boxes in the local market,” he explained.

Container xChange added that this had led to severe congestion at Russian rail terminals, and that some local transport managers had described the situation around Moscow as “critical”.

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