UNCTAD’s Review of Maritime Transport 2022: Facts and Figures on Latin America and the Caribbean

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UNCTAD’s Review of Maritime Transport 2022: Facts and Figures on Latin America and the Caribbean

Geneva, Switzerland, 29 November 2022

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development releases today the Review of Maritime Transport 2022.

Trends in maritime trade

  • In 2021, maritime trade in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), including both goods loaded and discharged, amounted to 2 billion tons, a 3% increase over 2020. The continent accounted for 12.6% of total goods loaded and 5.8% of total goods discharged.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic seriously disrupted containerized seaborne trade, exports and imports in LAC. During the first half of 2020, LAC’s containerized trade fell by 12.2%. In the first half of 2022, most LAC subregions increased their containerized cargo exports. However, exports from the Gulf Coast of Mexico remained flat while there were falls in exports from the East Coast of South America (ECSA) and the Pacific coast of Panama.
  • Between January and June 2022, exports from ECSA, the Pacific coast of Central America and the Gulf coast of Mexico were lower than in the same period in 2021. In Panama, for the Pacific coast, exports did not recover to 2019 levels, and for the Caribbean coast there was no recovery in imports.
  • In the first half of 2022, throughput for regional container ports was mostly similar to 2020. The main exception was the Mexican Pacific coast, which showed greater dynamism. During the pandemic there were more transhipments through the region’s large hub ports, so the recent lower dynamism could signal a return to pre-pandemic levels.
  • The war in Ukraine has implications for trade patterns in LAC regions. Lower shipments of grain because of the war were offset by increased grain exports from

Shipping fleet and supply

  • As of 1 January 2022, Panama featured among the top three flags of registration in terms of dead-weight tonnage and commercial value. The Bahamas flag had the largest decrease (1.5 percentage points) in dead-weight tonnage.
  • Among the top six registries, ships registered in Panama, followed by China, had the highest average age of total fleet. Differences in age reflect differences in registries policies, pricing structure and specialization in different ship types.
  • In January 2022, among these registries, Panama, at 18.9 years, had the highest average age across most ship types except bulk carriers, which represented 58% of its registered fleet.
  • Some oil majors and commodity exporters may own their own ships. For example, the Brazilian mining company Vale owns its iron ore mines as well as the railway that connects the mines to the ports, the iron ore terminals and several “Vale max” iron-ore carriers. In this case the competition is between entire supply chains; iron ore from Brazil competes with iron ore from Australia and China.

Liner shipping connectivity

  • Liner shipping connectivity fell in Latin America and the Caribbean. Between the third quarter of 2020 and the second quarter of 2022, the Liner Shipping Connectivity Index (LSCI) for the region went from 16.5 to 16.3. The average number of direct connections declined by 13.5%. As shipping lines reassigned ships to the China-US routes, some states lost deployed capacity: Belize by 54%, and Aruba by 50%.
  • Some hub countries increased vessel capacity. Panama increased its deployed capacity by 0.9% and Jamaica by 13.5% as they gained from the capacity redeployment to the United States.


Freight rates, port calls, port performance

  • The number of container ship arrivals in Panama increased by 22% as more container ships transited through the Panama Canal to avoid congestion in the US West Coast ports, increasing port calls including bunkering and crew changes.
  • Spot freight rates surged across routes in developing regions. On the China to South America (Santos) route in December 2019, the average rate per 20-foot-equivalent unit (TEU) was less than $2,000, but by December 2020 it had risen to $6,543 and by December 2021 was $10,196.
  • Among the top 30 economies by vessels arrivals for loading of dry bulk vessels, 12 recorded more than 50% increases in waiting time for loading, with Colombia recording one of the three highest increases in addition to Oman and Norway. In Colombia, COVID-19-related restrictions disrupted not only port operations but also coal mining and rail transportation, leading to an increase in ships’ waiting time for loading.
  • In terms of cargo handling productivity of handy size bulk carriers, some economies such as Peru, Guatemala and Chile – recorded high cargo handling performances even though they had fewer port calls.
  • The World Bank and S&P Global released the updated Container Port Performance Index (CPPI 2022), which assesses and aggregates vessel turnaround time within 10 narrow call size ranges and five vessel size and port call size ranges. In the second version for 2021, released in May 2022, Mexico performed better than ports in the US West Coast.
  • The results for South American ports were mixed: two thirds of the ports had better-than-global average performance, led by Cartagena and Buenaventura in Colombia. The other third indicated low scores, with the lowest ranking for San Antonio in Chile.
  • Positive results are associated with the Port Community System of Canal Tamengo created in 2019 when Bolivia (Plurinational State of) granted international status to three ports along the canal – Gravetal, Aguirre and Jennefer. Customs release times decreased – now averaging two hours for imports and one hour for exports.

Shipping fleet CO2 emissions

  • Over the past decade, emissions from Panamanian-flagged ships declined by 14% as the negative impact of the moderate increase in registered ship capacity was offset by improvements in greenhouse gas emission efficiency. In 2021, Panama was among the flag states emitting the most CO2 in addition to Liberia, Marshall Islands and Hong Kong China.

Inland transport connectivity

  • As a landlocked country, Paraguay relies on ports in neighbouring countries. To keep goods flowing during COVID-19, Paraguay promoted public-private partnerships through its national trade facilitation committee, which continued implementing the trade facilitation agenda enshrined in the 2021–2022 work plan elaborated with UNCTAD’s support. Looking forward, the Bi-Oceanic corridor will help turn Paraguay’s western region into an international logistics centre by offering the shortest route between Chilean and Brazilian ports. This is a demanding project that will also require a high degree of commitment and coordination among all countries in the region and potential foreign investors.




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