Upswing in 2021?
In its recently-released Review of Maritime Transport 2020, Unctad sees mature performances from shipping lines. In addition to a significant 4.1% dent in maritime trade, trends such as mega-ships and alternative fuels continue to give cause for concern.
Growth is indeed possible, but its certainly isn’t easy during the ongoing pandemic. At least Unctad secretary general Mukhisa Kituyi also finds words of praise for shipping lines in his organisation’s analysis of the global shipping industry for this year. “At the peak of the crisis, when the contraction in cargo volumes brought an additional challenge to structural market imbalance,” the report notes, “the container shipping industry adopted more discipline, cutting capacity and reducing costs to maintain profitability instead of market share.”
Growth and market developments
This initially paid off in a smaller decline in world maritime trade, namely of 4.1% in 2020 – there had previously been much more dramatic estimates. And according to Unctad, maritime trade is expected to pick up again, namely by 4.8% in 2021 – “assuming that global economic output recovers.” Unctad nevertheless remains rather cautious.
There were also a number of other trends and developments in maritime transport in 2019 / 2020. In 2019, for example, the global fleet grew by about 4.1% to approximately 98,000 merchant ships in total. The volume of world trade at sea increased by 0.5% and reached a total level across all goods categories of almost 11.1 billion t.
Container shipping contributed more than 811 million teu of goods handled in ports worldwide to this growth. Nevertheless, the study reports, there’s no esca- ping the fact that the outbreak of Covid-19, and the impact of subsequent government measures, from Q2 / 2020 onwards, to contain it, heavily affected world trade. It was already weaker in 2019, having lost 0.5% of its overall volumes, due to the US-Chinese trade dispute.
The regional distribution of trade flows is also changing. In 2019, 41% of global exports came from Asia, and 62% of imports went to the same region. Unctad has estimated that by March 2020, China accounted for approximately 20% of world trade in intermediate goods, up from around 4% in 2002.
Brazil has now overtaken the USA as the world’s largest exporter of cereals by sea. Together with Greece and Japan, China remains in the trio of the largest shipowning countries, in terms of cargo capacity. They control 40.3% of world tonnage and 30% of the value of the global fleet.
ULCVs still growing bigger
Not surprisingly, Liberia, the Marshall Islands and Panama remain the three leading flag nations worldwide, in terms of the overall capacity as well as of the value of their registered fleets.
The increasing use of ultra-large containerships – the biggest giants again increased their capacity by approximately 10.9% this year – is something that only shipowners are pleased about. Unctad has ascertained that ULCVs often even increase total supply chain costs.
Oh yes, there’s one point that has almost got overlooked. The International Maritime Organization’s regulations on sulphur-oxide emissions, and its ban on transporting non-compliant fuel (see our article on page 9), which came into force in January 2020, were difficult to monitor, due to the pandemic. It remains to be seen how the overall sector develops under Covid-19.