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WORLD SEABORNE TRADE EXPANDED IN 2005 -- AND GROWTH CONTINUES IN 2006

UNCTAD/PRESS/PR/2006/043
10 November 2006

Review of Maritime Transport 2006 reports 6.2% jump in developing countries´ seaborne trade

More trade moved by sea in 2005. Seaborne trade (measured by tons of goods loaded) expanded for the second consecutive year, the Review of Maritime Transport 2006 reports. The global total was 7.11 billion tons -- up 3.8%. Maritime trade is expected to expand at roughly the same rate in 2006.

The world output expansion of 2005 was about one-fifth lower than the 4.1% increase of 2004, but there was a significant increase among developing countries: they grew at a rate of 6.2%. Developed nations saw a rise of 2.7%.

Maritime activity -- as measured in ton-miles -- increased in 2005 to 29,045 billion ton-miles, up from 27,635 billion ton-miles in 2004.

There was significant augmentation of the world´s merchant fleet: it grew to 960.0 million deadweight tons (dwt) by the beginning of 2006, an increase of 7.2%. That is the highest expansion in merchant ship capacity since 1989, when the fleet began its recovery from the 1980s shipping slump. However, the main operational productivity indicators for the world fleet in 2005 -- tons carried per dwt and thousands of ton-miles per dwt -- were 7.4 and 30.3, respectively, marginal decreases from 2004.

For 2005, the annual average freight indices for four of the five categories of tankers were below those of 2004. However, the value of freight indices for very large crude carriers (VLCC)/ultra large crude carriers (ULCC), Suezmax, and Aframax ships increased by 86.2%, 40.6%, and 27.6%, respectively between January and December 2005.

The balance between supply and demand for seaborne shipments of the main bulks, particularly iron ore and coal, resulted in lower rates for both time and trip charters, the Review reports. Annual average index decreases of 20.0% for time charters and 12.2% for trip charters were recorded. Freight rates evolution on the main containerized routes -- trans-Pacific, transatlantic, and Asia-Europe -- was mixed when compared with rates prevailing at the end of 2004. On the trans-Pacific and Asia-Europe routes the dominant directions (from Asia to North America and from Asia to Europe), freight rates dropped 2.3% and 7.0%, respectively. There were gains of 10.1% and 7.3% in the other directions on these routes. Rates on the transatlantic route increased by 20.2% westwards and 18.6% eastwards.

World total freight payments as a proportion of total import value stood at 3.6% in 2004. The freight factor was 3.1% for developed market-economy countries compared with 2.9% in 2003, while for developing countries it was 5.9%, lower than the 6.1% recorded in 2003.

World container port traffic continued to expand at the rate of 12.6% in 2004, reaching 336.9 million twenty-foot equivalent units (or TEUs, based on standard container size). Ports of developing countries and territories handled 137.0 million TEUs, or 40.7% of the total. In 2005, the top 20 world container ports handled 186.1 million TEUs. The world container fleet grew by 9.0% during 2005 to reach 21.6 million TEUs.

Developments in Africa

During the period 2003-2005, the economic performance of countries in Sub-Saharan Africa remained below that recorded by developing economies as a whole.

In 2005, the total tonnage of the African merchant fleet, including the open registry of Liberia, reached 98,563 thousand dwt, or 10.3% of the world total. The share of Sub-Saharan African countries in the African merchant fleet, excluding major open registry, increased to 41.7%. The average age of African developing countries´ merchant fleet, not taking into account major open registry, is 20.5 years, considerably older than the world average.

Public and private partnerships have been established in several countries to modernize and expand existing port and rail infrastructure. By connecting national networks, such rail modernization might ease access to seaports for landlocked countries in East and Southern Africa. Containerized international sea freight of Sub-Saharan African countries is heavily imbalanced in favour of imports, and focuses on Europe. Recent developments, however, might contribute to expanding traffic to North America and the Far East, notably China.

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