Container shipping giant Maersk has left New Zealand freight forwarders feeling "betrayed" after forcing them to rely on the spot price market next year by refusing to accept contracts.
A freight forwarder is a business that organises the importing and exporting of goods for individuals and corporations.
What began in the Northern Hemisphere as rumours about Maersk's intentions a few months ago has become a reality for the local sector, which has a significant share of the container moving market as New Zealand grapples with a supply chain crisis.
Chris Edwards, president of the Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Federation of New Zealand, said the sector understands Maersk is only going to offer contracts to the top 200 clients worldwide - essentially those sending more than 100 containers a week.
"If you don't fall into that category then you won't get a contract and you'll have to go on what they call the spot market, which is spot prices. You can't run a logistics business that way when clients want predictable pricing."
It was still early days as to how Maersk's new approach might impact New Zealand imports and exports, Edwards said.
"I think a lot of the freight forwarding community will feel betrayed because of course we established Maersk here to some extent by giving them our support."
Edwards said his firm recently tried to extend a contract for next year for shipping goods from Australia. It was told by Maersk sub-brand Hamburg Sud it would no longer be extending contracts in 2022.
"Then we reached out to our partners in Germany to try to book for next year with them and were told no contracts would be accepted."
Edwards said not being able to get contracts would be "a real gamechanger" for some freight forwarders, many who had made use of Maersk's direct sailings to China, built in part on the line's Fonterra dairy volumes.
"That probably stops now and we will have to use the spot market which changes from week to week and causes a lot of work for forwarders.
"It will have a significant impact on choice for SME-sized businesses, those moving only a few containers a week who won't get a look in on Maersk's services. It's the first time a shipping line has said 'we don't value your business'.
"It's an interesting move - fuelled by confidence and a large bank balance I guess.
"But shipping is very cyclical. At the moment there's more cargo than ships but things change."
Confirmation of the Maersk move comes as the line announced a new container service, the Polaris, connecting Brisbane with the ports of Timaru and Lyttelton, starting on January 22.
It also announced it would reduce the number of port calls on the Sirius Star service between New Zealand ports and Fiji. It said this was to make cargo connections to its world network more reliable and stable and to avoid missed sailings due to schedule delays in the supply chain crunch.
Asked if Maersk was pursuing more direct contracts with New Zealand customers, thereby cutting out the freight forwarder middleman, the company said its cargo profile here had historically been dominated by direct customer/cargo owner contracts. This was a result of the high export dependency of agriculture commodities.
"Due to the supply chain disruption negatively impacting actual/available capacity as the vessel turn time is increased as a result of delays, our key focus has been to deliver on our contractual commitments and existing agreements, rather than increasing focus on chasing cargo in the spot market," a Maersk statement said.
"The purpose of the additional service and investment in the New Zealand market is to enable us to deliver the most reliable and trusted network to our customers. Due to the current supply chain disruption we continue to experience vessel delays on the New Zealand coast, resulting in missed hub connections (causing delayed cargo arrival at final destination) and vessel sliding (effectively reducing capacity due to longer vessel turn time).
"This year Maersk has made significant changes to our Ocean network in New Zealand and continued to prioritise and invest in the New Zealand supply chain to support our customers and deliver to our long term customer agreements. We can already see the positive impact from the initiatives implemented, as per the Seaintel November report on carrier reliability, Maersk's Southern Star service recorded a 100 per cent schedule reliability compared to the 16 per cent average market performance in the OCE to ASI trade.
"It is important to note that the pricing on the Maersk Spot platform is dynamic, closely reflecting market developments including instances of improved market supply. As an example during 2021 season we have seen periods with bookings being made on Maersk Spot between Auckland Metroport to Qingdao, China starting from US$600 All-In per 40ft high cube dry container."
Don Braid, managing director of global logistics company Mainfreight, a major New Zealand freight forwarder, said its attitude to the Maersk move was "we will always back our abilities to look after our customers".
"We provide our customers with a choice and variety of shipping lines and airlines.
"There's also our ability to offer our customers door-to-door service including managed warehouses - Maersk will find that difficult to replicate.
"Our emphasis is on high levels of quality service and a decentralised approach where our people can make decisions as close to the customer as possible.
"It's been our competitive advantage for a long, long time."
Other major New Zealand freight forwarders Mondiale and Oceanbridge said the federation's Edwards would speak for them.