The global maritime industry is a complex web of trade, logistics, and transportation, and it’s a sector that’s no stranger to challenges and changes. The recently released Review of Maritime Transport 2023 by UNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) provides us with a comprehensive snapshot of the state of the industry.
Take a closer look at some of the key highlights from this report.
1. Weathering the Storms: Resilience Amidst Challenges
Global shipping, as outlined in the report, continues to grapple with various challenges. Heightened trade policy tensions and geopolitical issues are creating ripples in the industry. Moreover, changes in globalization patterns are reshaping the way goods move across borders. Yet, despite these headwinds, the maritime sector remains resilient.
UNCTAD predicts that maritime trade volume will continue to grow, albeit at a moderated pace, from 2024 to 2028. This is a testament to the industry’s adaptability in the face of adversity.
2. Containerized Trade: A Rollercoaster Ride
Containerized trade, a critical component of maritime commerce, experienced a decline of 3.7% in 2022. This downturn was attributed to factors like sluggish global economic growth, high inflation, and the normalization of demand post the unusual surge during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, there’s optimism on the horizon. UNCTAD projects a 1.2% increase in containerized trade in 2023, with more substantial growth of over 3% expected between 2024 and 2028. While this growth is positive, it falls short of the long-term average of about 7% over the past three decades.
3. Changing Trade Patterns: The Intrigue of Distances
One intriguing aspect highlighted in the report is the changing distances of containerized trade. The global shift towards shorter distances, particularly in intra-Asian trade, has been notable. This is largely driven by China’s dominance in global manufacturing and the increased participation of East Asian countries in global value chains.
4. Impact of Geopolitics: Dry Bulk and Tanker Trade
The war in Ukraine had significant repercussions on seaborne trade, especially for dry bulk and tanker shipments. These sectors saw changes in shipping patterns and increased distances traveled for commodities like oil and grain.
In 2022, oil and gas trade volumes experienced substantial growth, thanks to a surge in demand as the pandemic’s grip eased and restrictions were lifted. Conversely, containerized and dry bulk shipments faced declines.
5. Emissions: A Mixed Bag
While there’s a global push to reduce emissions, the report indicates that total greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping have actually risen by 20% over the past decade. This is due, in part, to the growth in trade volume and longer distances traveled. The challenge of reducing emissions per ton-mile remains.
6. Costs and Congestion
Container shipping costs have seen fluctuations, with contract rates remaining higher in 2022 compared to pre-COVID levels. Interestingly, thinner and longer routes tend to be more volatile, reflecting a high sensitivity to changes in supply and demand.
Congestion is another issue, with developing countries’ ports generally experiencing slower operations. Improved infrastructure and technology have helped reduce turnaround times in developed countries, except during the COVID-19 pandemic.
7. Legal Frameworks and Future Orders
The demand for a legal framework for electronic Bills of Lading (e-Bill of Lading) has increased during the pandemic. Carriers are adopting electronic solutions, and governments are responding with legal changes.
There’s also uncertainty surrounding the ordering of new ships. Despite a surge in container ship orders in some markets, the global order book remains relatively small. This could lead to supply chain disruptions in the future.
8. Maximum Vessel Size and Market Dynamics
The size of vessels and the number of carriers per country are critical factors in the maritime industry. The report suggests that we may have reached the maximum vessel size, with ships plateauing at around 28,000 TEU. Additionally, the number of carriers per country has increased recently, impacting market dynamics.
Download the full report here.