The year 2008 marked a major turning point in the history of the world economy and trade.
The year 2008 marked a major turning point in the history of the world economy and trade. A tightening of credit brought about by the global financial crisis and reduced demand for goods and shipping services lead to a decelerated growth in international seaborne trade in 2008. At the same time, the supply of new vessels continued to grow. This growth was the result of vessel orders placed before the financial crisis, when the industry was still expecting continuing high growth rates in demand - which did not materialize. As the world's shipping capacity continues to increase, the industry finds itself confronted with a surge of oversupply and tumbling freight rates.
These challenges are further compounded by other developments, including maritime security at sea and the need to address the climate change challenge.
The Review of Maritime Transport is an annual publication prepared by the UNCTAD secretariat. Over 80% of international trade in goods is carried by sea, and the Review provides valuable statistical information on this sector as well as other transport modes.
Key developments reported in this year's Review
? In 2008, world seaborne trade (goods loaded) increased by 3.6% to reach an estimated 8.17 billion tons.
? African countries experienced strong GDP growth in 2008 (5.1 per cent), the top performers being the resource-rich countries. As a whole the region's share of world trade remains at 2.7 per cent.
? In 2009, the total world merchant fleet had expanded by 6.7%, to reach 1.19 billion deadweight tons (dwt). The tonnage of oil tankers increased by 2.5% and that of bulk carriers by 7%. For the first time, the total tonnage on dry bulk carriers has exceeded the tonnage on oil tankers. Together these two types of ships represent 71.2% of total merchant fleet tonnage.
? The world fleet of fully cellular container ships continued to expand substantially in 2008: by the beginning of 2009 there were 4,638 ships, with a total capacity of 12.14 million TEUs - an increase of 8.5 per cent in the number of ships and 12.9 per cent in TEU capacity over the previous year.
World container port throughput grew by an estimated 4% to reach 506 million TEUs in 2008. Mainland Chinese ports accounted for approximately 22.6 per cent of the total world container port throughput.
Rail freight traffic measured in ton-kilometres in China, the Russian Federation and India showed growth rates of 3.5 per cent, 5 per cent and 8.4 per cent respectively for 2008. However, rail freight traffic declined in Europe by 5 per cent. In both Europe and the United States, rail freight declined significantly in the early months of 2009 compared to the same period in the previous year.
During 2009 a new convention titled the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Carriage of Goods Wholly or Partly by Sea, which will be known as the "Rotterdam Rules", opened for signature. The new Convention requires 20 ratifications to enter into force.
Negotiations in 2009 at the World Trade Organization's Negotiating Group on Trade Facilitation showed signs of a possible compromise on contentious issues of the Doha Round. Delegations are now aiming at finalizing a first draft text for a new WTO agreement on trade facilitation.
The increasing number of piracy and armed robbery incidents against ships - particularly off the Somali coast and in the Gulf of Aden - are leading to investigations on ways to find adequate response in various forums including the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the United Nations.
Global crisis slowed growth in world seaborne trade; maritime freight rates still depressed, report says International seaborne trade grew by 3.6% in 2008 to its highest level ever, but this growth is lower than the previous year, UNCTAD´s Review of Maritime Transport 2009 reports. The annual survey says challenging times lie ahead for the shipping industry as the global economic and financial crisis plays out.
The report, known as the RMT, was released today. It estimates total seaborne trade during 2008 at 8.17 billion tons.
Trade in dry bulk commodities -- such as iron ore, grain, coal, bauxite/alumina and phosphate -- which represent around one quarter of seaborne trade, grew by an estimated 4.7%, as compared with 5.7% in 2007.
The Baltic Dry Index (BDI), which is a composite of shipping prices for various dry bulk products, experienced a record high in May 2008 followed closely by a severe decline of more than 90% by the end of the year as the crisis set in, the report notes. Towards the middle of 2009 a partial recovery was seen, with rates at around 40% of their 2008 peak. However, volatility in freight rates remains, suggesting uncertain times ahead for developing economies dependent on trade in commodities. High inventory levels in the supply chain helped stave off a similar decline in containerized trade, the report says, but the volume of container trade collapsed at the end of 2008.
Recently declining trade volumes are occurring at the same time as the world merchant fleet has expanded, exacerbating the situation in the shipping industry, the RMT notes. At the beginning of 2009, fleet capacity reached 1.19 billion deadweight tons, up 6.7% from January 2008. This growth was the result of vessel orders placed before the financial crisis, when the industry was still expecting continued high growth in demand for shipping.
World container port throughput climbed by an estimated 4% to reach 506 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs, the standard measurement for container transport) in 2008. Mainland Chinese ports accounted for approximately 22.6% of total world container port throughput. However, by the end of 2008, sharp falls in port throughput were noted in China and at many other ports around the world.
Every year, the RMT reviews transport developments in a particular region. The focus in 2009 is on developments in Africa since 2006, when UNCTAD last reported on the region. Despite the global financial crisis, the region still experienced strong growth last year (5.1%), the RMT 2009 reveals. The top performers in Africa were the resource-rich countries. Africa´s share of overall world trade remains at 2.7%, the report notes.
Around 80% of international trade is carried via maritime transport, and for developing countries the figure can be much higher. The RMT covers developments in other modes of transport and surveys relevant issues over the 18-month period from January 2008 through the middle of 2009.
During 2009, a new convention titled the United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Carriage of Goods Wholly or Partly by Sea, which will be known as the "Rotterdam Rules," was opened for signature. The convention requires 20 ratifications to enter into force.