For use of information media - Not an official record

19 December 2002

World seaborne trade contracted in 2001 from 5.89 billion to 5.83 billion tons, following 15 consecutive years of growth, reports UNCTAD´s Review of Maritime Transport 2002 (1), released today. The -1% growth rate in 2001 contrasts sharply with the healthy 3.9% recorded for 2000 and is mainly attributable to the economic downturn in the US, Japan and to a lesser extent Europe. For 2002 the report is predicting that global maritime trade growth will remain flat.

Asian countries had the biggest share (36.8%) of total tonnage of world seaborne exports, owing in large part to exports of crude oil from Western Asia and of manufactured goods from East and South-East Asia. Europe accounted for 25.5% of world tonnage loaded, most of it originating within the European Union. Some 20.9% of world export tonnage was contributed by industrialized countries in North America and the developing countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, whose considerable exports of crude oil, iron ore, coal and grains constituted about two thirds of the hemisphere´s total tonnage. Africa and Oceania represented 9.4% and 7.4%, respectively, in world tonnage exported.

The level of freight rates declined in the tramp and liner shipping sectors, the report says. According to freight indices for the several types of existing tankers, 2001 was a bad year for tanker owners, and the downward trend is likely to continue into early 2003. A similar picture is reported for dry bulk carriers and container ship sectors.

The annual report looks at developments in world maritime transport, particularly for developing countries, with a special focus this year on developing countries in America. In this year´s Review:

  • Global cargo movements of developing countries increased marginally, while their share of the world merchant fleet decreased slightly, despite absolute increases in deadweight tonnage in Asia and America.
  • Growth in the volume of merchandise trade for developing countries in America was positive in 2001, as estimated by the WTO, but much less than that achieved the previous year. Tonnage of goods loaded and unloaded increased marginally.
  • The merchant fleet of developing countries in America increased marginally to 34.6 million deadweight tons (dwt) and accounted for 4.2% of the world fleet - the same percentage for the third consecutive year. The average age of the fleet was 17.1 years, with container ships the youngest, at 9.2 years, and bulk carriers the oldest, at 19.2 years.

Developing countries´ share of world seaborne trade grows…

UNCTAD statistics indicate that the overall share of world seaborne trade for developing countries rose slightly in 2001 - to 50.5%, up from 49.6% the previous year - due to an increase in goods loaded. Oil and other commodities comprise a large proportion of loaded goods.

Asian developing countries´ share of total goods loaded and unloaded also climbed last year, from 29.1% to 29.8% and from 21.0% to 21.5%, respectively. For developing countries in Africa, the share of loaded seaborne goods dipped to 7.0% from 7.4%, while unloaded goods fell to 2.9%, down from 3.5%. The share of maritime trade for developing countries in America was up modestly from previous levels, reaching 13.3% for goods loaded (up from 12.7%) and 5.9% for goods unloaded (up from 5.8%).

For global seaborne trade, the Review reports that tanker cargoes grew by a modest 0.6%, while dry cargoes slid 1.9%. The latter was due to negative annual growth in minor bulks and liner trades that more than compensated for the positive annual growth of 1.2% reported for the five main dry bulk commodities. Among these, coal and to a lesser extent phosphate rock trades saw a healthy increase in annual growth, while trades of iron ore, grain and bauxite and alumina actually declined. The report briefly reviews some of the container security measures being developed in the liner trades by US authorities in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.

…but share of world fleet falls

The developing countries experienced a minimal decline in their share of the world fleet - from 19.4% to 19.3% - while in terms of absolute capacity, their fleet increased by 2 million dwt to 159.0 million dwt at the start of this year. In Asia, developing countries expanded their deadweight tonnage to 117.0 million in early 2002 from 115.7 million the previous year, and now account for 14.2% of world tonnage, or 73.6% of the fleet of all developing countries. African developing countries, by contrast, maintained their 0.7% of world tonnage (3.8% of all developing country tonnage).

Registration of ships by developed market-economy countries and socialist countries of Asia accounted respectively for 25.1% and 3.2% of the world fleet. The biggest fleet expansion occurred in open-registry countries, where it was up 10.0 million dwt to 402.4 million dwt, or 48.7% of the world fleet in 2001 (vs. 48.5% the previous year). Security and environmental concerns have been raised recently in connection with the open-registry fleet, often referred to as flags of convenience.

Worldwide fleet expansion continued at a pace of 2.1%, reaching 825.6 million dwt at the beginning of this year. Newbuilding deliveries in 2001 were 45.2 million dwt (up 1.8% from 2000); tonnage broken up and lost, 27.9 million dwt (down 27.7%), leaving a net gain of 17.3 million dwt. Oil tankers and dry bulk carriers made up 70.3% of the total world fleet. The container ship fleet rose by 11.4% to 77.1 million dwt, or 9.3% of the world fleet.

The average age of the fleet of developing countries (14.2 years) is slightly more than the world average (13.9 years). But this average masks differences by type of vessels and by region: Developing countries´ tankers, bulk carriers and container ships are generally somewhat younger than the rest of the world´s, unlike their general cargo vessels, which are two years older than the world average.

The operational productivity of the world fleet, measured in terms of tons of cargo carried per deadweight ton, dropped to 7.1 in 2001 from a high of 7.3 in 2000. Productivity, measured in terms of thousand ton-miles per deadweight ton, also shrunk to 29.5 from a 30.9 high in 2000. These results reflect lowered load factors. The increase in surplus tonnage to 2.6% of the world fleet in 2001 from 2.3% in 2000 also accounts for this reduction in productivity.

Poor regional outlook for developing countries in America

Since 1998, Latin America and the Caribbean has been on an economic roller coaster: after recovering from the 1997 crisis, in 1998 the region enjoyed a 2.3% increase in output, which was then followed by a meagre 0.4% rise for 1999. Output increased a healthy 4.1% in 2000, in line with the booming world economy, followed by a modest 0.5% increase in 2001. With the economic downturn in the United States, the outlook this year for maritime trade in the region is for zero growth. Rates of volume growth for exports and imports in 2000 were 11% and 13.9%, respectively, but the estimates for 2001 were much more modest. About 60% of these countries´ exports, and 50% of their imports, involve North America. Intraregional trade accounts for about 15% - a share slightly greater than that for trade with Europe.

The merchant fleet of developing countries in America reached a total 34.6 million dwt in 2001 and is heavily concentrated in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, which together account for 26.3 million dwt. An additional 6.6 million dwt are from countries on the eastern coast of South America, and the rest is registered in countries along the western coast. Three countries in the region - Bahamas, Bermuda and Panama - are classified as open registries and account for 218.7 million dwt.

Main bulk commodities, such as crude oil, iron ore, coal and grain, are exported from mechanized dedicated terminals in ports that are often part of an integrated industrial operation. Exports and imports of liner and other cargoes go through public ports, which over the last few years have been opened in this region to private sector operation and investment. Freight rate levels for tramp services and liner cargoes have been coming down, in line with the general trend in shipping. Inland transport in South America is still underdeveloped, but the First Meeting of the Presidents of countries from the subregion, held in August 2000, decided to address the issue. Freight costs for these countries´ import trades in 2000 were 8.6% of the import value of goods, slightly below the developing country average, which masks differences within the region (Caribbean countries have higher averages).


1. The Review of Maritime Transport, 2002 (Sales No. E.00.II.D.26, ISBN 92-1-112501-4) will be available for free downloads on the UNCTAD website for a full month. It may also be obtained at a list price of $80 from www.un.org; Section des Ventes et Commercialisation, Bureau E-4, Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland, tel: +41 22 907 2606/2613, F: +41 22 917 0027, E: unpubli@unog.ch; or United Nations Publications, Two UN Plaza, Room DC2-853, New York, NY 10017, USA, T: +1 212 963 8302 or +1 800 253 9646, F: +1 212 963 3489, E: publications@un.org.

For more information, please contact:
Economic Affairs Officer, Carlos Cañamero
Division for Services Infrastructure for Development and Trade Efficiency
T: +41 22 907 2041
F: +41 22 907 0050
E: transport.section@unctad.org
Press Officer, Erica Meltzer
T: +41 22 907 5828/5365
F: +41 22 907 0043
E: press@unctad.org.


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