Last week’s twin explosions at Tianjin Port have cast further shadows over the veracity of China’s trade and logistics network.

Two devastating blasts in a warehouse holding hazardous chemicals killed more than 100 people and left many more injured, and while much trade has resumed as normal in one of China’s most important hubs, concerns are mounting about the state of China’s trade record keeping systems.

It was reported locally that the company in control of the warehouse at the centre of the disaster – Tianjin Dongjiang Port Rui Hai International Logistics – was not legally permitted to handle the materials between October 2014 and June of this year, but had done so nonetheless. The materials included calcium carbide, sodium cyanide, potassium nitrate, ammonium nitrate and sodium nitrate. Authorities located 700 tonnes of the extremely toxic sodium cyanide, which is more than 70 times the legal limit.

Systematic forgery of trade invoices in 2013 was found to have grossly inflated nominal trade figures, exposing high-level willingness to tamper with important trade data. Furthermore, the Qingdao commodity fraud last year highlighted a practice whereby loans were being disbursed in order to pay for collateral that did not exist.

All have combined to stymie confidence in the reliability of services and operators at some of the world’s busiest ports.

“The latest incident, where there was uncertainty for days about the exact contents of the hazardous materials warehouse, adds to that doubt about the systems in place for record keeping, and in this case, digitisation and safe and accessible storage. That said, these incidents mostly confirm existing suspicions about record keeping, rather than significantly worsening them,” IHS’ senior economist in Beijing Brian Jackson tells GTR.

Following the Qingdao scandal, commodity firms were known to be moving their metals stocks from warehouses in the port to Busan in Korea, as well as other parts of Southeast Asia. The long-term impact of the Tianjin disaster remains to be seen, but the early signs are that some business has continued as usual.

“Toyota was forced to halt production at two of its plants in the area, with Mitsubishi reporting damage to 600 vehicles.”

Reuters’ data showed that oil shipping resumed a matter of days after the event, with the newswire quoting a spokesperson for Australian mining giant Fortescue as saying there has been “no impact on iron ore cargoes going through the Port of Tianjin” to date.

Other sectors have been less fortunate. Toyota was forced to halt production at two of its plants in the area, with Mitsubishi reporting damage to 600 vehicles. IHS estimates the moratorium could lead to a loss in production of 2,200 cars per day. It is also thought that up to seven pharmaceutical factories within the 2km blast radius will have been affected.

The Tianjin port network has become vital to the country’s trade economy. It accounts for 7% of China’s port tonnage and 3% of overall merchandise trade. Its proximity to landlocked Beijing makes it one of China’s most significant trade hubs.

Much of China’s petrochemical imports enter through Tianjin and it was named as one of three new free trade zones (FTZs) earlier this year, becoming operational in April. And while official trade data from the FTZ has yet to arrive, officials have been keen to talk up its importance to the economy.

Just days before the explosion, the Tianjin FTZ deputy director Jiang Guangjian told Xinhua, China’s state-owned media, that more than 7,000 new enterprises had registered in the area this year, with registered capital up 248% on the first six months of 2014. It is expected to be a key hub in China’s ambitious One Belt, One Road programme, designed to revive the ancient Silk Road trade route, spanning from Australasia to Iberia.