The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), in its recently released Review of Maritime Transport 2020, says COVID-19 hit world trade after an already weak 2019, in which global maritime trade lost further momentum as trade tensions continued to bite.
They included China-US tensions, uncertainties around Brexit, complaints made by several countries against Indian tariffs, the Japan-Korea trade dispute and general moves towards protectionism. The report estimates that additional tariffs arising from the China-US tensions cut the volume of maritime trade by 0.5% in 2019.
Other notable facts and figures on global maritime trade in 2019 include the following:
- Iron ore trade fell for the first time in 20 years, by 1.5%, due to disruptions such as the Vale dam collapse in Brazil and Cyclone Veronica in Australia.
- Brazil overtook the US as the world’s largest seaborne grain exporter.
- As of March 2020, an estimated 20% of global trade in manufacturing intermediate products originated in China, up from 4% in 2002.
- The deployment of larger container vessels often increases total transport costs across the logistics chain. The capacity of the largest container vessel went up by 10.9%, but it’s mainly the carriers that benefit from the economies of scale offered by larger vessels, while ports and inland transport providers don’t necessarily benefit.
- Ports are showing more interest in strengthening connections with the hinterland to get closer to shippers and ‘anchor’ cargo volumes – in line with the push for port-centric solutions over recent years.
- China, Greece and Japan remain the top three ship-owning countries in terms of cargo-carrying capacity, representing 40.3% of the world’s tonnage and 30% of the value of the global fleet.
- Liberia, the Marshall Islands and Panama remain the three leading flags of registration, in terms of carrying capacity and of value of the fleet registered. As of 1 January 2020, they represented 42% of the carrying capacity and 33.6% of the value of the fleet.
- The flags of Iran, Taiwan and Thailand registered the highest increases in terms of deadweight tonnage. The number of ships flying the flag of Iran quadrupled – this was due to the pressure of sanctions, which led several registries to de-flag vessels associated with trade involving the country.