Maritime trade continued to see strong growth, but tariffs remain a risk

Coal into China remains the main driver for growth as other countries see a drop in import levels.

Commodity volumes through ports around the world continued to rise in the second quarter, hitting 7% quarter on quarter, according to a recent report by the Shanghai International Shipping Institute (SISI).

The Institute attributes the strength to improving business environments and a continued global economic recovery.

Container throughput in the five largest ports was up 6.8% to 40.9 million twenty-foot equivalent (TEU) in the second quarter. However, trade tariffs imposed on China by the US is increasingly seen as a roadblock to further growth.

The US administration has published a list of goods worth USD 200 billion to which it now plans to add 25% tariffs. Containerized goods have already been targeted by a USD 50 billion tariff round on goods totalling 6.6 million tonnes of seaborne trade from China to the US in 2017, or about 660,000 TEU.

According to Peter Sand, Chief Economist at BIMCO (Baltic International Maritime Council) these volumes amounts to an equivalent of 5.9% of US West Coast container imports in 2017. Sand says a further 22.4 million tonnes of seaborne goods would be impacted by the US 200 billion list, which amounts to a further 20.1% of USWC imports in 2017, or 2.24 million TEU. This would affect a total of 1.5% of the global seaborne container trade.

The main drivers of the growth seen by SISI was the growth in coal and iron ore exports through Australian ports, mainly bound for China. Thermal coal exports grew 14% to 19.87 million metric tonnes, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics and total Australian coal exports are forecast to hit 238 million tonnes of thermal coal this year.

The largest rise in iron ore throughput was seen at the Port of Hedland which exports rose 4.2% to 135m tons in the second quarter on the back of demand from infrastructure projects in China and in countries targeted by the One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiatives.

US soybeans remain the single most targeted commodity and the one that remains the most at risk of disruption in terms of volume. By value the impact is less certain. As of 6 July, US Soybeans face 25% tariffs when bound for China, but a 20% drop in the price of the commodity traded on CBOT in Chicago relative to those exported by Brazil, has largely offset the impact of the tariffs.

Some major ports saw drops in cargo throughput. Rotterdam reported a 12% drop in coal imports, mainly from Colombia and South Africa as coal-fired power plants were shut down in Germany. Likewise, the Port of South Louisiana suffered the most serious impact, with cargo throughput falling by 7.2%. 

Show More