Chardonnay supplies hit by Panama Canal drought

Panama Canal traffic jam means we could all be facing a Dry January with Chilean and Californian wine in short supply

  • Low water levels in the 50-mile canal are restricting the vessels using the canal
  • Already, goods worth in the region of £22m have been delayed by the drought 

Britons could miss out on some of their favourite wines this Christmas because of low water levels in the Panama canal. 

Authorities in the central American country are limiting the number of vessels that can transit the 50-mile canal which links the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Already, the delays are threatening an estimated £22million worth of fruit, vegetables and meat according to research by data analytics firm Russel Group.

Britain relies heavily on imports from the South American country, according to a study of UK-bound ships using the canal by data and analytics firm Russell Group.

Authorities in Panama are restricting the number of vessels able to transit the canal

Most of the exports from Chile to Britain are sent by ship using the Panama Canal

Researchers claimed the products may be in short supply in shops this month. Most of the disruption will be related to fruit, with £18million worth coming from Peru.

They issued a warning over fears the ongoing disruption – due to a drought – may result in ’empty or reduced quantities of these items on the supermarket shelves’.

READ MORE: Low water levels threaten Christmas deliveries

It comes after the Panama Canal Authority began restricting vessel transits in the summer as the drought limited supplies of water needed to operate its lock system.

Only 22 daily transits are now allowed, down from about 35 in normal conditions – and the situation will worsen in February when transits will fall further to 18 a day.

With many UK consumers starting to shop for perishable items ahead of Christmas – now less than a fortnight away – concerns are building that the disruption may stop such exports from Peru and other South American countries such as Chile and Ecuador making the journey.

Water levels in the 50-mile canal from the Pacific ocean to the Atlantic have fallen to their lowest since the mid-1900s.

Scores of massive container ships carrying gifts such as the new iPhone, TVs, bikes and clothes are being delayed by up to four weeks – and the crisis could last for several months.

Low water levels are restricting the number of vessels who are allowed to transit the canal

Among the goods that are being delayed are Californian Chardonnay and Chilean Merlot

Congestion in the canal could have a wider impact across the global supply chain – with experts also warning that Christmas in the UK and Europe could be adversely affected. 

Marco Forgione, Director General of the Institute of Export & International Trade, said: ‘The UK could be in for a dry January next month, whether we choose to partake in the annual challenge or not, because of global shipping delays, supplies of our favourite Californian Chardonnays and Chilean Merlots, which make their way to us via the Panama Canal, could be badly affected.

‘Given the UK is the second biggest importer of wines in the world, the second biggest global market for US wine and the third biggest for Chilean, the impact of delays along all parts of the supply chain could be profound.

‘But it’s not just British wine lovers who stand to be disrupted. We’re also a top exporter, with the UK acting as a hub for global wine supplies and selling it to the likes of Hong Kong, Singapore and France.

‘If we want to avoid gaps on supermarket shelves, it is imperative that the policymakers create an import strategy which builds diverse supply chains to withstand impacts of these sorts of disruptions.’

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