For use of information media - Not an official record

08 December 2000

World seaborne trade recorded its fourteenth consecutive annual increase in absolute terms in 1999, reaching a record high of 5.23 billion tons, according to UNCTAD´s Review of Maritime Transport, 2000, released today. And although in percentage terms the annual growth rate actually declined to 1.3% - the lowest since 1987- this year the figure is projected to recover to 2.0%.

The annual report focuses on developments in maritime transport, particularly for developing countries, and this year looks closely at African trade and maritime transport. In this year´s Review:

  • Developing countries maintained a steady share in global cargo movements and boosted their share of the world merchant fleet, mainly due to increased deadweight tonnage in Asia;
  • Trade in sub-Saharan Africa has risen, but the region´s total merchant fleet has declined; and in general,
  • African shipping and trade are impeded by ageing fleets and the high costs of freight and inland transport.

Sustained demand in the United States, and the recovery in Asia, were the main engines of global trade expansion in 1999, thus contributing to the continued growth in world seaborne trade. Both exports and imports of Europe rose substantially in the dry cargo sector, although crude oil imports from non-European countries declined. In Asia, import expansion last year offset the previous year´s import contraction in terms of dry cargo volume. Asia´s exports also improved significantly as the exports of Japan, the ASEAN-4 (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand) and the Republic of Korea recovered from the 1997-1998 economic and financial crises. Despite relatively lower intraregional trade, Latin America as a whole reported a favourable export expansion of dry cargo in 1999. Crude oil exports of Africa slumped considerably, but exports of non-oil cargo rose moderately.

UNCTAD´s statistics indicate that the overall share of developing countries in world seaborne trade remained virtually unchanged in 1999. These countries accounted for 28% of goods unloaded and about half of goods loaded; the latter figure reflects the large volume of their oil exports.

Asia´s share of total goods loaded and unloaded also did not alter last year (26.1% and 18.8%, respectively). In Africa, seaborne exports dropped from 10.1% to 9.8%, but imports were stable, at 4.0%. For the developing countries of America, maritime trade in 1999 held steady at 14.1% for loading and 4.3% for unloading.

Looking in detail at the 1999 trends in global seaborne trade, the Review reports that a moderate 2.8% increase in the main dry bulk commodities pushed the overall level of growth of dry cargo shipments to 3.0% - the lowest since 1996. Among main dry bulk commodities, coal and grain rose by 1.5% and 7.1% in 1999, while shipments of iron ore fell by 1.7%. Containerized manufactured goods, which are another main dry cargo, rose by 1.0% in 1999, reflecting a substantial recovery from the Asian crisis and its aftermath. Oil trade in tankers, by contrast, which represented 42% of all world trade, slipped by 1.0%.

Increased share of world fleet for developing countries

The world merchant fleet continued to expand at a rate of 1.3%, reaching 799.0 million deadweight tons (dwt) at the end of last year. Analysis of the regional structure of the world fleet shows moderate changes in the share of developing countries in 1999. They expanded their fleet to 153.6 million dwt, up from 150.8 million dwt the previous year. This represents 19.2% of the 1999 world fleet, compared to 18.9% in 1998, and was mainly attributable to the increase in Asian developing countries´ deadweight tonnage, from 108.5 million dwt in 1998 to 112.2 million dwt in 1999. They own 14.0% of world tonnage, or 73.0% of the fleet of all developing countries, while African developing countries own 0.8% of world tonnage (4.0% of all developing country tonnage).

This tonnage growth of developing countries had a positive impact on age structure, with average vessel age in developing countries reduced to 14.19 years in 1999, as compared to 14.09 years for the world fleet as a whole, and clearly indicates a qualitative improvement in developing country fleets. The average age of this group´s containerships dropped dramatically, to 9.13 years in 1999 from 11.39 years in 1998, reflecting the high share (39.9%) of ships between 0 and 4 years of age.

The operational productivity of the world fleet, measured in terms of tons of cargo carried per deadweight ton, maintained the same level in 1999 as in 1998 - 6.42 tons per dwt, which was a record high. Ton-miles productivity measured in terms of performance per deadweight ton, however, fell substantially to just under 27,000, the lowest since 1993. In 1999, positive developments - such as larger consignment and vessel sizes, improved port conditions, and marginal growth in overall supply (1.3%) - were offset by the decreasing growth in total demand (1.3% in 1999, down from 1.6% in 1998).

Sub-Saharan Africa experiences growth in trade

Over the period 1995-1999, the exports of sub-Saharan African countries increased at an average annual rate of 4.0% in value and 5.1% in volume, while imports rose 6.3% per year in value and 6.9% in volume.

These trade statistics were also reflected in a rise in total containerized liner cargo transported to and from the region. That traffic increased at an average annual rate of 2.1% (imports at 0.8% and exports at 3.6%), from 2.0 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 1998 to nearly 2.1 million TEUs in 1999, of which approximately half are loaded or discharged on the continent´s southern coast. Two thirds of the volume through the southern coast are traded by South Africa. The trade of the west coast accounts for one third of the total.

Coal, iron ore and grain are the major dry bulk cargoes of sub-Saharan Africa. Coal exports from the southern coast, handled entirely by South Africa, reached 54.8 million tons in 1999. Iron ore shipments were made from the west and southern coasts, with combined exports of 36.4 million tons. Grain imports amounted to nearly 7 million tons, of which more than half came in through the west coast. Exports of crude oil represented 157.8 million tons, the majority of which was produced in the west coast (two thirds of the total) and southern coast (one third).

Notwithstanding the increase in cargo movements, the fleet capacity of the sub-Saharan developing countries remains very small. The total tonnage owned in the region (excluding Liberia, which is an open-registry country; South Africa; and African island countries) has plunged from about 2 million dwt (0.29% of the world total) in 1980 to 1.2 million dwt (0.15% of the world total) in 1999. Fleets consist mainly of conventional general cargo vessels and tankers, accounting for 29.1% and 46.4% respectively of the total tonnage registered in the sub-Saharan countries. No containerships are registered in the region.

The average age of African developing countries´ fleets (19.47 years) continued to exceed both the world average (14.09 years) and that of other developing countries (13.75 years). Their share of vessels aged 15 years and over stands at 82.7%, as compared with 49.3% for the world total and 46.9% for the developing countries as a whole.

Freight costs of sub-Saharan African countries contributed to a higher proportion of total import value than those of countries in most other regions. In 1998 - the most recent year for which country data are available - freight costs as a percentage of total import value for sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) were five percentage points higher than the average for all developing countries (8.06%). For the 15 landlocked African countries, the costs exceeded the average by 10 percentage points.

The 15 landlocked nations continued to suffer from excessive transport costs. High import transport costs inflated the consumer prices of imported goods, while high export transport costs undermined the countries´ competitiveness in foreign markets.

For more information, please contact:
Economic Affairs Officer, Isao Onuki
Division for Services Infrastructure for Development and Trade Efficiency
Tel: +41 22 907 2061
Fax: +41 22 907 0050
E-mail: transport.section@unctad.org
Press Officer, Erica Meltzer
Tel: +41 22 907 5365 / 5828
Fax: +41 22 907 0043
E-mail: press@unctad.org.


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