Trading places

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It seems, at last, the humble shipping container has got its 15 minutes of fame – well, a whole year of it in fact. For the next twelve months the BBC is to track the movements of a container on its travels around the world, using GPS to report its position to a BBC web page where a record of the goods it carries, and stories relating to its progress, will be reported.

Apparently, the idea behind the initiative is to bring a live illustration of globalisation to the general public – global trade management for the masses. News on its travels will also feed through to television and radio with BBC reporters around the world telling The Box’s story on who’s producing goods for it and who’s consuming them.

The first stop for the container is a bottling plant for scotch whisky in Paisley, where a shipment of Chivas Regal is to be loaded, destined for China. It’s reported that 25 per cent of the UK’s food and drinks export market is accounted for by the export of whisky. But the question has to be asked: just how representative of a particular trade flow will the cargos be?

Considering the vast imbalance of trade in manufactured goods between China and the UK and the consequent cost differential of container movements depending on the direction of travel, perhaps it would be more representative of global trade movements to illustrate our export to China of low-value goods for processing, rather than a high value product such as whisky. The BBC should emphasise the cost per leg of the container if it wants to offer a true insight into the mechanics of global trade.

If you’re fed-up with tracking your own containers, you can always follow the BBC’s at

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