Port Report: Are Europe’s box ports gaining from the US-China trade war?

Healthy container port throughput growth suggests Europe is – so far at least – avoiding the worst effects of the U.S.-China trade war.

As reported by FreightWaves, ongoing global business uncertainty is proving a drag on Europe’s economic prospects. Even so, total container imports to Europe are forecast to increase by 3.1% in 2019, with a 2.6% gain in North Europe and a 3.9% increase in the Med-Black Sea region, according to the latest Global Port Tracker for North Europe produced by Germany-based Institute of Shipping Economics and Logistics (ISL) and U.S. analyst firm Hackett Associates.

Exports are projected to increase by 1.5% across Europe, with a 2% gain in North Europe and a 0.8% gain in the Mediterranean-Black Sea region.

As reported in FreightWaves, London-based shipping consultancy Drewry is also upbeat on Europe’s box trade prospects this year. Its latest market forecast, published in July, predicts Asia-North Europe westbound volumes will grow 4.3% this year, compared to just 1.2% over 2018, while European container port throughput is expected to increase 2.6% year-on-year.

The latest Global Port Tracker forecasts follow the surprisingly positive second quarter growth recorded in Europe’s six key northern ports – Hamburg, Bremen/Bremerhaven, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Zeebrugge and Le Havre – collectively known as the North Range ports or Northern Range.

“The North Range ports’ container traffic growth reached 5.3% in the second quarter of 2019 compared with the same quarter last year,” noted ISL analyst Sönke Maatsch. “As figures from ISL’s Monthly Container Port Monitor show, it is the highest year-on-year growth since late 2017 and much higher than in the major ports in China (4%) and the U.S. (2.2%).

“U.S. ports experienced strong growth in late 2018, but in the second quarter of 2019 growth dropped to the lowest rate during the presidency of Donald Trump,” Maatsch said.

Maatsch said that if the trend was confirmed, it would indicate that the trade conflict between China and the U.S. – which has continued to intensify during the past months – was mostly affecting trade between the two countries.

“European exporters may even be rejoicing: The mutual tariff increases between China and the U.S. make European products more competitive in both markets,” added Maatsch. “At the same time, Chinese and American exporters may seek to increasingly sell their production in Europe so European imports may also gain.

“No reason for malicious joy though. The trade diversion effects will only persist as long as the trade conflict intensifies and if European products are targeted by new trade barriers, this will have a direct impact on containerized trade.”