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World seaborne trade rebounds in 2002; increase expected this year

07 November 2003

World seaborne trade rebounded in 2002 to 5.89 billion tons, exceeding the previous record set in 2000, reports UNCTAD´s Review of Maritime Transport 2003 (1), released today. The recovery in seaborne trade reflects the improved growth in world output and is expected to continue this year, amidst concern about the increased costs involved in implementing tougher security measures. The measures, which are being taken by the United States and by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), could also result in reduced cargo theft and faster cargo clearance. Because of expertise, equipment and other resources entailed in implementation, they might prove difficult for the poorer countries to comply with.

The annual UNCTAD report looks at developments in world maritime transport, particularly for developing countries, and this year focuses on Africa. Last year´s tonnage represented a significant increase over the 2001 slump - 5.84 billion tons - and a minor increase over the 5.87 billion tons recorded for 2000.

Asian countries, including Japan, had the largest share of the total volume of seaborne world exports (37%), a figure that was relatively unchanged from 2001. Manufactured goods from East and South-East Asia, together with large crude oil exports from Western Asia, contributed to this result. Countries in Europe accounted for 25.4% of world volume loaded, with EU members representing 70% of the overall European share. Industrialized countries in North America and developing countries in America made up 21.2% of world export volume; the latter countries´ sizeable exports of crude oil, iron ore, coal and grains accounted for about two thirds of the total volume for the hemisphere. The shares of Africa and Oceania in world volume exported were 8.8% and 7.6%, respectively.

The decline in seaborne crude oil trade depressed tanker freight rates for most of the year, according to the Review. Average freight indices for the several types of tankers fell tumbled over 30%, making 2002 another bad year for tanker owners, with the downward trend continuing into early 2003. Conversely, the increase in dry bulk trades benefited rates for all sectors and sizes of dry bulk carriers: the rates for some time charters soared by over 150% during the course of the year. For the containership markets, rates generally increased but did not recover to those prevailing at the beginning of 2001. The Asia-Europe route improved the most, with rates up by around 20% in each direction last year, attributable to growing trade between the two regions. Rates have continued to climb this year, and by mid-2003 carriers had ordered more than 60 vessels with a capacity of 8,000 TEUs (20-foot equivalent units). Further concentration occurred in containerized liner shipping: the top 10 carriers now control almost 44% of the world´s total container carrying capacity.

Developing countries´ share of world seaborne trade stable…

According to the new UNCTAD report, the overall share of world seaborne trade for developing countries last year fell slightly for goods loaded and rose slightly for goods unloaded. These countries accounted for 49.4% of goods loaded and 31.4% of goods unloaded, compared to 49.7% and 30.8% in 2001, respectively. Oil and other commodities constitute a large proportion of loaded goods.

Asian developing countries´ share of total goods loaded and unloaded followed a similar pattern, falling to 29.6% and rising to 22.1%, respectively. For African developing countries, the share of loaded seaborne goods fell to 6.5%, while unloaded goods remained steady at 3.2%. The share of maritime trade for developing countries in America fell slightly to 12.9% for goods loaded and stayed at 5.7% for goods unloaded.

For global seaborne trade, the Review reports that tanker cargoes slumped 1.4%, while dry cargoes increased 2.1%. The latter rise was due to a combined 2.4% positive annual growth in minor bulks and liner trades and 1.6% annual growth for the five main dry bulk commodities. Among these, iron ore, coal and bauxite shipments increased, while grain trades shrunk by 6%.

…and share of world fleet increases

The developing countries´ share of the world fleet increased by 12.3 million deadweight tons (dwt), for a total fleet of 171.3 million dwt at the beginning of 2003 - 20.3% of the world fleet - up from 159.0 million dwt the previous year. This was primarily the result of almost 10 million dwt in fleet expansion for Asian countries.

Developing countries in Asia again increased their deadweight tonnage, from 117.0 million in 2001 to 126.9 million last year. Countries in this region now own 15.0% of world tonnage, or 74.1% of the fleet of all developing countries. African developing countries, by contrast, maintained their 0.6% share of world tonnage (3.1% of all developing country tonnage). Registration of ships by developed market-economy and Asian socialist countries accounted respectively for 25.7% and 3.4% of the world fleet. The fleet of the main open-registry countries dropped by 3.9 million dwt to 398.5 million dwt, comprising 47.2% of the total world fleet (as opposed to 48.7% the previous year).

Worldwide fleet expansion continued at an annual pace of 2.2%, reaching 844.2 million dwt early this year, up from 825.6 million a year earlier. Newbuilding deliveries during 2002 reached the highest level ever recorded, with 49.0 million dwt (up 8.4% from 2001); tonnage broken up and lost totalled 30.5 million dwt (up 9.7%), leaving a net gain to the fleet of 18.5 million dwt. Oil tankers and dry bulk carriers made up 71.6% of the total world fleet. The world container ship fleet size grew by 7.4%, to 82.8 million dwt.

The average age of the fleet of developing countries (13.5 years) was slightly more than the world average (12.6 years), but both have slid from the previous year. However, this average masks considerable differences by type of vessels, with general cargo vessels the oldest (17.0 years) and containerships the youngest (9.1 years). For developing countries the average age of general cargo vessels is 19.1 years; 65.3% of them are 20 years or older. The world tanker fleet has an average age of 11.6 years, 24% of these tankers being 20 years or older. Now that single hulled tankers are being phased out in order to reduce the risk of pollution, the average age will drop.

Shipping lines and port authorities are in the process of improving security measures that will increase costs but could eventually lead to a quicker movement of goods, particularly containerized goods. The United States Customs and Border Protection Container Security Initiative, involving some 20 ports, plus the advance reporting of the contents of all containers shipped to the US, are examples of increased control. The International Ship and Port Facilities Security Code adopted by the IMO requires all ships and ports involved in international trade to prepare and implement security plans by July 2004. The additional costs will be borne by the trade, and poorer countries could have some difficulties complying with the new standards, predicts the Review of Maritime Transport.

Poor regional performance for Africa

The 53 African countries have had an average annual GDP increase during the past decade of 3.1%, lower than the 4.7% recorded for developing countries. Africa accounts for 34 of the 49 LDCs of the world, and 16 of those 34 are landlocked. During the period 1990-2001, the value of their exports increased by 33.8%, while the value of imports rose 37.1%. However, their overall share in value terms decreased from 3% in 1990 to 2.4% in 2001. Sub-Saharan countries accounted for 44% of African exports and 41% of imports. Freight costs for import trades for these countries in 2001 were 12.7%, well above the 8.7% average for developing countries as a whole, while those for landlocked countries totalled 20.7%. Road transport is the predominant mode of inland transport for the landlocked sub-Saharan countries. The high cost of such transport is evident on a per kilometer basis when the various corridors are compared to Europe - for example, Dar-es-Salaam to Kigali costs $3.02 per kilometer; Douala to Bangui, $4.94 per kilometer; vs. $1.65 per kilometer in Europe. Wars and internal conflicts have required rerouting of some trades, resulting in mismatches of volumes with infrastructure, procedures and management capability.

Europe, notably the European Union, is the destination for about half of all African exports. North America accounts for a little less than a fifth, which is slightly more than the share for Japan and other Asian countries. The Middle East, Latin America and intra-African markets make up the balance of about 15%. The Everything but Arms initiative of the European Commission progressively to eliminate all quotas and duties on exports from LDCs will provide access for more agricultural products, some of which travel in refrigerated containers. The African Growth and Opportunity Act of the United States will also stimulate trade, the majority of which will be transported by sea.

Since 1990 the African fleet, excluding open registers, has declined from 7,268 thousand dwt to 5,406 thousand dwt in 2002, accounted for largely by declines in their tanker and general cargo fleet. Despite the growth in containerized traffic, the container fleet also decreased over the same period, from 226 to 139 thousand dwt. A concentration in liner services in West Africa has helped to restore rates; in addition, congestion and emergency surcharges have been introduced to recover extra costs. In East Africa, however, operational efficiency in a number of ports has improved with the introduction of private sector operators for container handling. Reducing transport costs will be a key factor to improving the competitiveness of the region, the Review finds.


1. The Review of Maritime Transport, 2003 (Sales No. E.03.II.D.10, ISBN 92-1-112582-0) may be obtained at the price of $80 from United Nations Publications, Two UN Plaza, Room DC2-853, Dept. PRES, New York, NY 10017, USA; T: +1 800 253 9646 or +1 212 963 8302, F: +1 212 963 3489, E: publications@un.org, or Section des Ventes et Commercialisation, Bureau E-4, Palais des Nations, CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland, T: +41 22 917 2614, F: +41 22 917 0027, E: unpubli@unog.ch, Internet: http://www.un.org/publications.

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