Friday, October 15, 2004

international shipping

ethan zuckerman (via dave winer) looks into the economics of international shipping:

Doesn't it seem logical that bottled water from New England would be cheaper than that bottled water from halfway around the world?

It's certainly what I thought. But hey, as so often happens, I'm completely wrong.

Turns out that overseas shipping costs are so unbelievably cheap, they strain credulity. The Agricultural Marketing Service of the US Department of Agriculture maintains very useful data on domestic and international transport costs. The quarterly Ocean Rate Bulletin provides costs for shipping a 40' container of animal feed, poultry, onions, hay or 13 other agricultural commodities from California ports to a number of major Asian ports. While there's no available rate for shipping bottled water, the rates for 40' containers of wine (mmm, 40-foot container of wine...) to various ports range from $920 to $3,770, averaging around $1800.

How much water or wine is in a 40 foot container? According to the fine folks at Export911, 40 foot containers generally carry 24,000kg or less. Since water conveniently weighs a kilo per liter, that's 24,000 bottles for $1,800, or $0.075 per bottle. Assume that Suva gets less container traffic than Hong Kong and that I'm not considering packaging weight, and the price might rise to the princely sum of a dime a bottle.

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