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China offers force majeure as coronavirus chokes ports

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China has offered force majeure certificates to businesses after the coronavirus outbreak caused delays and congestion at its ports.

According to reports citing the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, businesses will have to provide documentation including proof of delays or cancellations for sea, air or land transport and related customs declarations to apply for force majeure.

For more information on how the coronavirus is the maritime industry, read this exclusive Port Technology International insight: How has coronavirus affected ports and shipping?

Force majeure is a legal clause initated when a party cannot fulfill contractual obligations due to unforeseen circumstances. In an instance when it is used, the previous obligations are waived.

The coronavirus broke out in the Chinese city of Wuhan at the end of 2019. Since then it has spread to 18 countries, with the UK declaring its first two cases on 31 January 2020. According to reports, 132 people have died as of 31 January 2020.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the outbreak a ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’ on 30 January 2020 but has not recommended any travel or trade restrictions.

China is the most powerful country in the maritime world, with seven of the Earth’s busiest ports and close links to the other three – Singapore, Hong Kong and Busan.

The country is the largest importer of crude oil and exporter of steel in the world, as well as being an indispensable hub of manufacturing and commerce.

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