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Maersk Makes First Foreign-Flag Shipment in Chinese Coastwise Trade

Merete Maersk container ship
Image courtesy Maersk Line

Published May 31, 2022 8:42 PM by The Maritime Executive

Maersk Line has become the first foreign carrier to operate a boxship in Chinese coastwise trade under a new exception to the nation's cabotage rules. 

At the port of Shanghai Yangshan, the massive island extension at the world's biggest container seaport, the boxship Merete Maersk loaded 27 containers that had just arrived from Vancouver, Canada. She is scheduled to deliver them directly to Tianjin, China, a coastwise voyage of about 600 nautical miles. 

Until recently, the voyage would not have been possible. In China, cargo shipments between two Chinese ports have historically been covered by cabotage rules, and foreign carriers have been strictly prohibited from engaging in this trade - even for cargoes of international origin.

"Transshipment in Shanghai allows us to improve services through optimized networks and could also address some of the factors behind the bottlenecks in Chinese supply chains," said Maersk CEO Soren Skou in a statement. "We appreciate this initiative by the Chinese authorities. It is an important step towards optimizing relay regulations, and we hope it will serve as an inspiration in other geographies where restrictions on international relay still exist."

In 2019, China's State Council proposed a package of measures to boost trade through Shanghai. One of the changes is a new carveout that allows qualified foreign carriers to pick up international cargo at Shanghai Yangshan and "relay" it to ports in northern China, to include Dalian, Tianjin and Qingdao. The trial was confirmed in November 2021 and will last through 2024. 

"At a time of significant stress in global supply chains, this is a very welcome step which may ease some of the bottlenecks exporters are experiencing," said Joerg Wuttke, the president of the European Chamber of Commerce in China. "This seems to be a meaningful step towards opening up the maritime industry in China to foreign participation, and creating more reciprocal market access terms between Chinese carriers in the EU and EU carriers in China."