Maritime transport is the backbone of international trade and the global economy. Around 80 per cent of global trade by volume and over 70 per cent of global trade by value are carried by sea and are handled by ports worldwide. These shares are even higher in the case of most developing countries.
UNCTAD's Review of Maritime Transport has since 1968 provided coverage of key developments affecting international seaborne trade, shipping, the world fleet, ports, freight markets, and transport-related regulatory and legal frameworks.
The year 2015 is a milestone for sustainable development. The international community has a unique opportunity to strengthen its commitment to sustainable development and consider how best to mainstream sustainability principles across all economic activities and sectors, including maritime transport. In this context, in addition to the review of key economic and legal developments, the present edition of the Review of Maritime Transport highlights some issues that are at the interface of maritime transport and sustainability.
Chapter 1: Seaborne trade
The world economy embarked on a slow-moving recovery led by uneven growth in developed economies and a slowdown in developing countries and economies in transition. In 2014, the world gross domestic product (GDP) increased marginally by 2.5 per cent, up from 2.4 per cent in 2013. Meanwhile, world merchandise trade increased by 2.3 per cent; this is down from 2.6 per cent in 2013 and below the pre-crisis levels. Accordingly, preliminary UNCTAD estimates indicate that global seaborne shipments have increased by 3.4 per cent in 2014, that is at the same rate as in 2013. Additions to volumes exceeded 300 million tons taking the total to 9.84 billion tons.
Infographic: Review of Maritime Transport 2015
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Chapter 2: The fleet
The world fleet grew by 3.5 per cent during the 12 months to 1 January 2015, the lowest annual growth rate in over a decade. In total, at the beginning of the year, the world's commercial fleet consisted of 89,464 vessels, with a total tonnage of 1.75 billion dwt. For the first time since the peak of the shipbuilding cycle, the average age of the world fleet increased slightly during 2014. Given the delivery of fewer newbuildings, combined with reduced scrapping activity, newer tonnage no longer compensated for the natural aging of the fleet.
Chapter 3: Freight costs
Developing countries, especially in Africa and Oceania, pay 40 to 70 per cent more on average for the international transport of their imports than developed countries. The main reasons for this situation are to be found in these regions' trade imbalances, pending port and trade facilitation reforms, as well as lower trade volumes and shipping connectivity. Container freight rates remained volatile throughout 2014 although with different trends on individual trade lanes. The tanker market witnessed an equally volatile freight rate environment in 2014 and early 2015. The dry bulk market freight rates faced another challenging year influenced by the surplus capacity that still exists and the uncertainties in demand projections.
Chapter 4: Ports
Developing economies' share of world container port throughput increased marginally to approximately 71.9 per cent. This continues the trend of a gradual rise in developing countries' share of world container throughput. The economic, environmental and social challenges facing ports include growing and concentrated traffic volumes brought about by ever-increasing ship size; the cost of adaptation of port and port hinterland infrastructure measures; a changing marketplace as a result of increased alliances between shipping lines; national budget constraints limiting the possibilities of public funding for transport infrastructure; volatility in energy prices, the new energy landscape and the transition to alternative fuels; the entry into force of stricter sulphur limits; increasing societal and environmental pressure; and potential changes in shipping routes from new or enlarged international passage ways.
Chapter 5: Legal and regulatory framework
The Polar Code, establishing mandatory provisions to ensure ship safety and prevent environmental pollution in both Arctic and Antarctic waters, which was adopted at IMO and will enter into force on 1 January 2017. To further strengthen the legal framework relating to ship-source air pollution and the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from international shipping, several regulatory measures were also adopted at IMO and the third IMO GHG Study 2014 was finalized. In addition, guidelines for the development of the Inventory of Hazardous Materials required under the 2010 International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea (HNS Convention) were adopted, and further progress was made with respect to measures helping to prevent and combat pollution of the sea from oil and other harmful substances. Continued enhancements were made to regulatory measures in the field of maritime and supply chain security and their implementation, including the issuance of a new version of the WCO SAFE Framework in June 2015, which includes a new pillar 3 "Customs-to-other government and inter-government agencies". As regards suppression of piracy and armed robbery, an issue considered in some detail in a recent two-part report on maritime piracy prepared by UNCTAD, positive developments were noted, however, concerns remain about the seafarers still being held hostage.