Developing countries’ share in the volume of global seaborne imports exceeded share of seaborne exports for the first time in 2014

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Developing countries’ share in the volume of global seaborne imports exceeded share of seaborne exports for the first time in 2014
Review of Maritime Transport 2015 says developing countries are ever larger users of maritime transport services

Geneva, Switzerland, 14 October 2015

​The share of global goods loaded at developing country seaports was estimated at 60 per cent in 2014, while the import demand of developing countries, as measured by the volume of goods unloaded at their seaports, reached 61 per cent, UNCTAD data show. This means that for the first time in recorded history, the developing country share in the volume of imports slightly exceeded their share in exports, according to estimates published in the UNCTAD Review of Maritime Transport 20151.

Developing countries have incrementally shifted patterns of trade as the distribution between the goods loaded and unloaded has changed significantly. No longer only sources of supply of raw materials, developing countries are also key players in globalized manufacturing processes now and a growing source of demand.

Developing countries’ share of global imports, measured by volume of unloaded goods grew, by 3 1/2 times, to reach 61 per cent in 2014 from just 18 per cent in 1970, UNCTAD data show (see figure). Asia continued to dominate as the main loading and unloading region in 2014, followed by continental America, Europe, Oceania and Africa.

According to UNCTAD, global seaborne shipments increased by an estimated 3.4 per cent in 2014. This represents an additional volume of more than 300 million tons, taking the total volume to 9.84 billion tons.

In addition, the Review of Maritime Transport 2015 calculates that growth in ton–miles performed by maritime transport was estimated to have increased by 4.4 per cent in 2014, up from 3.1 per cent in 2013 (the ton–mile unit, an accurate measure of demand for shipping services and tonnage, takes into account distance, which determines the transportation capacity of ships over time).

Dry bulk commodities, namely iron ore, coal, grain, bauxite and alumina, phosphate rock and minor bulk commodities accounted for nearly half of the total 52,572 estimated billion ton–miles performed in 2014. The ton–miles of dry bulks expanded firmly, at 6.4 per cent for major dry bulk commodities and 5.2 per cent for minor bulk commodities.

Apart from China, iron ore and coal demand from other fast-growing economies such as India and the Republic of Korea is now on the rise, and iron ore and coal import demand in Asia has contributed significantly to the growth in dry bulk trade volumes over recent years.

With crude oil volumes estimated to have contracted in 2014, the associated ton–miles remained flat, indicating growth in distances travelled. The average haul of crude oil trade to Asia was estimated at over 5,000 miles in 2014 – 9 per cent greater than 2005 levels.

Ton–miles generated by containerized trade were estimated to have increased by 5.4 per cent, driven by the recovery on the peak legs of the Asia–Europe and trans-Pacific trade routes as well as the continued rise in longer haul North–South trade volumes.

Figure: Share of developing countries in seaborne trade, by volume
Source: Review of Maritime Transport 2015 (UNCTAD).