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Fact check: Cargo backlog due to supply chain snags, not executive order

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The claim: The backlog of cargo at US ports is because ships are 'banned from doing business on our soil'

The backlog of cargo ships in Southern California hit an all-time high Oct. 19 as more than 100 vessels waited to unload at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. President Joe Biden has announced the ports will work around the clock to clear out the shipping containers, although some experts have doubts about the plan.

Some social media users have come up with alternative explanations for the supply chain backup: restrictive trucking regulations, the Biden administration's policies and now a claim about Trump-era executive orders.

"Is it possible all those ships locked out at sea, are stuck because they've been banned from doing business on Our soil?" reads an Oct. 21 Facebook post, which accumulated nearly 700 shares within two days.

As evidence, the post cites "EO#13959," an executive order signed by former President Donald Trump in November. The order banned American investments in companies linked to the Chinese military.

Fact check: Shortages due to rising demand, supply chain disruptions

"Go back to EO signed by 45," reads a graphic in the Facebook post. "No goods will be allowed in ports by countries complicit in election fraud. Understand now?"

Similar posts have accumulated hundreds of interactions on Facebook and Instagram, according to CrowdTangle, a social media insights tool.

But they're wrong.

"The online sources are not accurate," Susan Golicic, director of the Supply Chain Management Forum at Colorado State University, said in an email. "These ships are allowed to enter the ports to be loaded and unloaded."

USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook user who shared the claim for comment.

Cargo containers wait to be transported after being offloaded at the Port of Los Angeles, Oct 16, 2021 in San Pedro, Calif.  Supply chain issues have caused shortages of goods throughout the country with cargo ships waiting off shore in Southern California to offload.
Cargo containers wait to be transported after being offloaded at the Port of Los Angeles, Oct 16, 2021 in San Pedro, Calif. Supply chain issues have caused shortages of goods throughout the country with cargo ships waiting off shore in Southern California to offload.

Executive order unrelated to cargo backlog

The Trump-era executive order cited in the Facebook post prohibits Americans from investing in companies linked to the Chinese military. Experts say it has no bearing on the cargo backlog at U.S. ports.

"This online claim seems to be completely off-base," Morgan Finkelstein, a spokesperson for the Treasury Department's Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in an email. "The (Chinese military-industrial complex company) prohibitions only relate to purchases or sales of publicly traded securities of certain identified companies."

The Facebook post cites some of those companies. The order, as amended by both Trump and Biden, is aimed at prohibiting investments in "Chinese companies that undermine the security or democratic values of the United States and our allies."

However, the Treasury Department clarifies on its website that the executive order does not apply to the purchase or sales of goods or services. And there's no other evidence to support the Facebook post's claim.

Fact check: California trucking regulations aren't to blame for cargo backlog

"To my knowledge, none of the ships in the ports are carrying containers from companies banned from doing business in the U.S.," Patrick Penfield, professor of practice in supply chain management at Syracuse University, said in an email. "Honestly, that would make no sense."

Mikaella Polyviou, an assistant professor of supply chain management at Arizona State University, used the subscription service Panjiva to analyze ocean bills of lading associated with the companies on the Treasury Department's list. She told USA TODAY the data she found suggests "the ships waiting at the ports are extremely unlikely to have goods from these banned companies."

"The majority of these banned companies do not appear as 'shippers' on any import records since 2007," Polyviou said in an email. "A few companies do appear as 'shippers,' but those imports are minimal and mostly halted around 2020."

Supply chain issues to blame for backup

Instead of delays associated with trade restrictions, the cargo backlog is due to a complex combination of supply chain issues stemming from the coronavirus pandemic, experts say. One of the biggest factors is rising demand.

During the height of the pandemic, consumer spending dropped by record numbers. As more Americans got vaccinated against COVID-19 and ventured outside their homes, spending increased. Now, retail sales continue to rise.

The economic seesaw resulted in an overwhelmed supply chain.

"To run optimally, logistics has to be well-planned and coordinated," David Correll, co-director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's FreightLab, previously told USA TODAY. "The pandemic and the homebody economy wreaked havoc on those networks, leaving supply chains unbalanced and out of whack."

Fact check: Photos of bare, fully stocked grocery store shelves shared online to support false claim

Staffing gaps in the logistics industry, container shortages and rising shipping costs have also contributed to supply chain problems. Then there are production cutbacks in countries like China, which has been grappling with a far-reaching power shortage.

"The cargo backlogs are mostly due to shortages in shipping capacities: There are not enough dock workers and equipment handling containers at ports, and not enough truck drivers picking up the containers unloaded from container ships," Tao Lu, an associate professor of operations and information management at the University of Connecticut, said in an email.

Our rating: False

Based on our research, we rate FALSE the claim that the backlog of cargo at U.S. ports is because ships are "banned from doing business on our soil." The Treasury Department and supply chain experts say the executive order cited in the Facebook post is unrelated to the backup. There is no evidence ships waiting off the coast are carrying cargo for companies banned from doing business in the U.S. The primary reasons for the supply chain problems are rising consumer demand, increased shipping costs, production constraints and labor shortages around the world.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Ships stuck at ports aren't banned from business in US

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