unctad.org | Global crisis slowed growth in world seaborne trade; maritime freight rates still depressed, report says
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Global crisis slowed growth in world seaborne trade; maritime freight rates still depressed, report says

07 December 2009

Review of Maritime Transport 2009 describes challenging times ahead for shipping industry

Geneva, 8 December 2009 - International seaborne trade grew by 3.6% in 2008 to its highest level ever, but this growth is lower than the previous year, UNCTAD´s Review of Maritime Transport 2009 reports. The annual survey says challenging times lie ahead for the shipping industry as the global economic and financial crisis plays out.

The report, known as the RMT, was released today. It estimates total seaborne trade during 2008 at 8.17 billion tons.

Trade in dry bulk commodities -- such as iron ore, grain, coal, bauxite/alumina and phosphate -- which represent around one quarter of seaborne trade, grew by an estimated 4.7%, as compared with 5.7% in 2007.

The Baltic Dry Index (BDI), which is a composite of shipping prices for various dry bulk products, experienced a record high in May 2008 followed closely by a severe decline of more than 90% by the end of the year as the crisis set in, the report notes. Towards the middle of 2009 a partial recovery was seen, with rates at around 40% of their 2008 peak. However, volatility in freight rates remains, suggesting uncertain times ahead for developing economies dependent on trade in commodities. High inventory levels in the supply chain helped stave off a similar decline in containerized trade, the report says, but the volume of container trade collapsed at the end of 2008.

Recently declining trade volumes are occurring at the same time as the world merchant fleet has expanded, exacerbating the situation in the shipping industry, the RMT notes. At the beginning of 2009, fleet capacity reached 1.19 billion deadweight tons, up 6.7% from January 2008. This growth was the result of vessel orders placed before the financial crisis, when the industry was still expecting continued high growth in demand for shipping.

World container port throughput climbed by an estimated 4% to reach 506 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs, the standard measurement for container transport) in 2008. Mainland Chinese ports accounted for approximately 22.6% of total world container port throughput. However, by the end of 2008, sharp falls in port throughput were noted in China and at many other ports around the world.

Every year, the RMT reviews transport developments in a particular region. The focus in 2009 is on developments in Africa since 2006, when UNCTAD last reported on the region. Despite the global financial crisis, the region still experienced strong growth last year (5.1%), the RMT 2009 reveals. The top performers in Africa were the resource-rich countries. Africa´s share of overall world trade remains at 2.7%, the report notes.

Around 80% of international trade is carried via maritime transport, and for developing countries the figure can be much higher. The RMT covers developments in other modes of transport and surveys relevant issues over the 18-month period from January 2008 through the middle of 2009.

During 2009, a new convention titled the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Carriage of Goods Wholly or Partly by Sea, which will be known as the "Rotterdam Rules," was opened for signature. The convention requires 20 ratifications to enter into force.

Downloads [PDF]: | Review of Maritime Transport 2009 | [219 pages, 2.088 KB]

For more information, please contact:
UNCTAD Communications and Information Unit
T: +41 22 917 5828
E: unctadpress@unctad.org
Web: www.unctad.org/press


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