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Maritime trade forecast to see 3.4% annual growth to 2024

The UN Conference on Trade and Development expects maritime trade to continue rising at an average annual growth rate of 3.4% over the next five years. However, it noted certain risks that might exert pressure on trade

A new normal for maritime transport is in the making, with effects permeating all aspects of the industry, from demand to supply, markets, ports and regulatory frameworks, the report says

INTERNATIONAL maritime trade is set to increase by an average 3.4% over the next five years, driven in particular by growth in containerised, dry bulk and gas cargoes.  

Containerised and dry bulk trades are expected to see a compound annual growth rate of 4.5% and 3.9% respectively over the 2019–2024 period while the tanker trade is projected to grow by 2.2% during the same period, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development.

Figures from the Annual Review of Maritime Transport show that world maritime trade lost momentum in 2018, with volumes expanding at 2.7%, below the historical averages of 3% and 4.1% recorded in 2017. However, seaborne shipping volumes have reached a record 11bn tonnes.

“The dip in maritime trade growth is a result of several trends including a weakening multilateral trading system and growing protectionism,” said Unctad secretary-general Mukhisa Kituyi. “It is a warning that national policies can have a negative impact on the maritime trade and development aspirations of all.”

While the review pointed out that in addition to heightened trade tensions between China and the US, growth in maritime trade is also being affected by developments in market segments that suffered some setbacks earlier in 2019.

These include disruptions to the iron ore trade caused by cyclone Veronica in Australia and the severe repercussions of the Vale dam incident in Brazil.

Although crude oil shipments from the Atlantic basin to Asia are expected to support tanker trade volumes, sanctions affecting Iran and Venezuela, as well as effective compliance with production cuts imposed by the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, are likely to put further pressure on the trade.

Other risks were the economic transition in China, geopolitical turmoil as well as the transition to lower-sulphur fuels and low-carbon shipping.

“These forces were influential in 2018 and can be expected to exert further pressure on maritime transport and trade in the near and longer terms,” it said.


Global Maritime Forum


Unctad noted that some positive developments in the offing may help offset current pressure on maritime trade.

These include China’s Belt and Road Initiative new bilateral and regional trade agreements, and potential opportunities stemming from the global energy transition, such as the growing gas trade.

Profound structural trends that started more than a decade ago and have taken hold are slowly transforming the maritime transport landscape.

The intergovernmental body noted that the industry is transitioning away from patterns observed before the global financial crisis and economic downturn hit the world economy. 

“Today, the maritime sector is dealing with much more than market uncertainty and short-term cyclical factors,” said Shamika Sirimanne, Unctad’s director of technology and logistics. “Other factors that are structural and existential, such as technological disruptions and climate change are at play and are redefining the sector.”

According to the report, a “new normal” for maritime transport is in the making, with effects permeating all aspects of the industry, from demand to supply, markets, ports and regulatory frameworks.

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