For use of information media - Not an official record

17 January 2002

World seaborne trade boasted its fifteenth consecutive annual increase in absolute terms in 2000, reaching a record high of 5.88 billion tons, reports UNCTAD´s Review of Maritime Transport, 2001 (1), released today. That healthy growth rate - 3.6% - is nonetheless likely to have slumped considerably in 2001, the report predicts, possibly to as low as 2%. The projected decline is mainly attributable to the impact of the economic downturn observed in the US and to a lesser extent in Europe.

The report says that strong demand in North America, Western Europe and East Asia, as the main engines of global trade expansion in 2000, contributed to the continued growth in world seaborne trade. But that growth was unevenly distributed. Oil-exporting countries, particularly members of OPEC that had agreed to raise production quotas during the year, had growth rates above the world average, as did parts of North America, Europe and Japan, with increases registered for both exports and imports and for the tanker and dry cargo sectors. In Latin America, Africa and Oceania, however, growth was below the world average.

The annual report focuses on developments in world maritime transport, particularly for developing countries, and this year looks closely at developing countries in East Asia, together with China and Japan. In this year´s Review:

  • Global cargo movements of developing countries decreased marginally, while their share of the world merchant fleet increased slightly, mainly due to increased deadweight tonnage in Asia;
  • Merchandise trade in East Asia had a booming year in 2000. Most of the major countries in the region achieved double-digit growth in the volume of exports and imports, as estimated by the World Trade Organization. This is due primarily to strong demand in the US, the main market for that region after the European Union.
  • The merchant fleet of developing countries in East Asia - and for all types of vessels with the exception of general cargo vessels - tends to be younger than the world average. The modern and efficient characteristics of the East Asian fleet are a reflection of the region´s competitiveness and of the importance it attaches to trade and transport.

Developing countries´ share of world seaborne trade shrinks…

UNCTAD´s statistics indicate that the overall share of developing countries in world seaborne trade declined slightly in 2000. These countries accounted for about half of goods loaded and 30.2% of goods unloaded, compared to 50.6% and 31.2% in 1999, respectively. Oil and other commodities constitute a large proportion of those loaded goods.

The share of developing countries in Asia of total goods loaded and unloaded also decreased last year, to 31.3% and 20.6%, respectively. For developing countries in Africa, the share of loaded seaborne goods dipped to 6.3%, while unloaded goods fell to 2.8%. The share of maritime trade for developing countries in America fell modestly from previous levels, reaching 12.0% for goods loaded and 6.2% for goods unloaded.

For global seaborne trade, the Review reports that the unusually high (7.4%) increase in trade in the five main dry bulk commodities pushed the overall level of growth of dry cargo shipments in 2000 to 3.8% - more than four times that of the previous year. For the three main dry bulk commodities - iron ore, coal and grain - the increases were 10.7%, 7.9% and 2.3%, respectively. Trade in containerized goods, another component of dry cargo, rose by less than 1.0% in 2000, reflecting a consolidation of traffic volumes gained after the recovery from the Asian crisis. Oil trade in tankers, by contrast, which represented 36.5% of all trade, grew by a healthy 3.1%.

…but share of world fleet rises

The developing countries boasted a moderate increase in their share of the world fleet, expanding from 153.6 million deadweight tons (dwt) in 1999 (19.2%) to 157.0 million dwt in 2000 (19.4%). This was primarily the result of a fleet expansion in developing Asia, where deadweight tonnage rose from 112.2 million in 1999 to 115.7 million in 2000. Developing countries in Asia now own 14.3% of world tonnage (73.6% of the fleet of all developing countries), as opposed to just 5.7% in 1980.

African developing countries, by contrast, own 0.7% of world tonnage (3.8% of all developing country tonnage). Registration of ships by developed market-economy countries and major open-registry countries accounted respectively for 25.2% and 48.5% of the world fleet.

Worldwide fleet expansion continued as well, at a pace of 1.2%, reaching 808.4 million dwt at the beginning of 2001. Newbuilding deliveries during the year 2000 were 44.4 million dwt (up 9.6% from 1999); tonnage broken up, 22.2 million dwt (down 27.7%); and vessels lost and taken out of service, 12.8 million dwt, leaving a net gain of 9.4 million dwt. Oil tankers and dry bulk carriers made up 70.1% of the total world fleet, and their carrying capacity increased by 1.1% and 2.0%, respectively. The container ship fleet rose by 8.8%, to 69.2 million dwt.

The average age of the fleet of developing countries (14.1 years) is slightly more than the world average (13.9 years). However, this average masks considerable differences by type of vessels. The average age of both tankers and bulk carriers of developing countries is lower than the world averages. This is also the case for their containerships, which are on average 10.0 years old - the youngest age for a country grouping - in contrast to the world average of 10.4 years. In the containership category, the proportion of vessels under four years of age is greatest in the fleet of developing countries, whereas general cargo vessels and all other vessels of developing countries are older than the world averages.

The operational productivity of the world fleet, measured in terms of tons of cargo carried per deadweight ton, increased from 7.12 in 1999 to 7.19 in 2000 - a record high. Productivity, measured in terms of ton-miles per deadweight ton, also rose substantially, to 28,380, surpassing the previous high of 1997. These performance increases resulted from a number of positive developments, such as higher load factors, increased vessel sizes and improved port conditions. The continuing reduction in tonnage oversupply, dropping to 2.3% of the world fleet in 2000 from 3.0% in 1999, also helped.

Regional developments in East Asia

The growth in GDP output of countries in East Asia (Japan; Republic of Korea; China; Hong Kong, China; Taiwan Province of China; and the major ASEAN countries) is evidence of continuing recovery from the financial crisis of 1997-1998, as is the region´s merchandise trade boom in the year 2000, according to the UNCTAD report. Exports from three countries, China, Indonesia and Thailand, grew by more than 20%, while in six other countries and territories (Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Philippines and Taiwan) export growth exceeded 10%. Only Japan´s exports were below this figure. Leaders in the import of goods were Indonesia and China, with more than 30% growth. Imports for all the rest, with the exception of the Philippines, grew by more than 10%.

The total merchant fleet for Japan, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Republic of Korea, Democratic People´s Republic of Korea and the 10 ASEAN countries, including those vessels beneficially owned in open registries, accounted for 37.0% of the world fleet (298.9 million dwt) in early 2001. The average age of the fleet owned by developing countries of East Asia was 12.2 years, below the 13.9-year world average.

The international transport network in East Asia embraces all transport modes, and its functioning calls for streamlined procedures and enabling legislation to accompany the efficient movement of goods. In many countries these improvements are already in process. The transport network anchored by such mega-sized hub-ports as Hong Kong and Singapore, for example, supports an active regional maritime trade. In South-East Asia there are hub-centres of varying capacity, including Singapore, Port Klang and Bangkok, linked by shipping companies that are slowly recovering from the financial crisis of 1997-1998. New areas, such as the Mekong River Basin, are starting to develop international trade. The high costs and cumbersome trading procedures of such landlocked countries as Lao People´s Democratic Republic, by contrast, are issues that are being addressed with regional instruments, including the ASEAN framework for trade facilitation.


1. The Review of Maritime Transport, 2001 (Sales No. E.00.II.D.26, ISBN 92-1-112501-4) may be obtained at the list price of $80 from www.un.org; United Nations Publications, Sales Section, Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland, T: +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 83 02 or +1 800 253 96 46, F: +1 212 963 34 89, E: publications@un.org.

For more information, please contact:
Economic Affairs Officer, Carlos Canamero
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 5365 / 5828
F: +41 22 907 0043
E: press@unctad.org.


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