• ARI Media

7 Trends Impacting Shipping’s Future

Seaborne trade expanded by a healthy 4% in 2017, the fastest growth in five years, with a similar growth forecast this year, according to UNCTAD’s Review of Maritime Transport 2018.

Volumes across all segments are set to grow in 2018, with containerized and dry bulk commodities expected to record the fastest growth at the expense of tanker volumes.

Healthy trade growth aside, the 2018 edition of the report also looked at the key opportunities and challenges faced by the shipping industry, and here are the 7 trends to be weary of:

Growing protectionism

First, on the demand side, the uncertainty arising from wide-ranging geopolitical, economic, and trade policy risks, as well as some structural shifts, have a negative impact on maritime trade. Of immediate concern are inward-looking policies and rising protectionist sentiment that could undermine global economic growth, restrict trade growth and shift trading patterns.

“While the prospects for seaborne trade are positive, these are threatened by the outbreak of trade wars and increased inward-looking policies,” UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi said. “Escalating protectionism and tit-for-tat tariff battles will potentially disrupt the global trading system which underpins demand for maritime transport.”

The warning comes against a background of an improved balance between demand and supply that has lifted shipping rates to boost earnings and profits.

Supply-demand improvements, namely in the container and dry bulk shipping segments, are expected to continue in 2018. Freight rates may benefit accordingly, although supply-side capacity management and deployment remain key. UNCTAD projects an average annual growth rate in total volumes of 3.8% up to 2023.

On the supply side, after five years of decelerating growth, 2017 saw a small pick-up in world fleet expansion. During the year, a total of 42 million gross tons were added to global tonnage, equivalent to a modest 3.3% growth rate.

Technological advances

Second on the list are the continued unfolding of digitalization and e-commerce and the implementation of the Belt and Road Initiative. These bear major implications for shipping and maritime trade.

Technological advances such as blockchain applications, cargo and vessel tracking, autonomous ships, and the Internet of Things, hold opportunities for the global shipping industry.

However, there is still uncertainty within the maritime transport industry regarding possible safety, security and cybersecurity incidents, as well as concern about negative effects on the jobs of seafarers, most of whom come from developing countries.

Excessive capacity

Third, from the supply-side perspective, overly optimistic carriers competing for market share may order excessive new capacity, thereby leading to worsened shipping market conditions. This, in turn, will upset the suppl