The globalisation of maritime businesses allows shipping companies to source from the most cost-efficient suppliers which has led to the reduction of international transport costs, which directly benefits global trade, according to the latest UNCTAD Review of Maritime Transport.
Maritime transport saw an increase in demand in 2010, in particular in the dry bulk and container trade segments with total seaborne trade reaching an estimated 8.4bn tons.
On the supply side, 2010 saw record deliveries of new tonnage, 28% higher than in 2009, resulting in an 8.6% growth in the world merchant fleet. The fleet reached almost 1.4bn deadweight tons (dwt) by January 2011, an increase of 120m dwt over 2010. New deliveries stood at 150m dwt against demolitions and other withdrawals from a market of approximately 30m dwt.
The Review demonstrates that developing countries have made remarkable progress in international seaborne transport. Shipping no longer consists solely of raw materials exports to the developed world: indeed, the last few decades have seen their increased participation in global supply chains, which has led to a surge in imports of primary and intermediary products.
Between 1970 and 2010, developing countries’ share in the volume of seaborne imports rose from just 18% to 56% of the world’s total. The world’s busiest container ports are Shanghai, Singapore and Hong Kong and Asian developing countries have the highest indicators of maritime transport connectivity.
But while the consolidation of the services provided by the container shipping industry achieved improved operational efficiency, it may also have entailed a loss in negotiating power for some players and resulted in less overall market efficiency for smaller trading nations. In July 2011, UNCTAD found that 35 coastal countries were served by three or fewer liner companies, compared to 25 countries just five years earlier.
In the past decades, developing countries have substantially expanded their fields of expertise to maritime sectors of greater business sophistication and technical complexity. They first became major market players in the provision of seafarers and vessel registration, and are now expanding into practically all major maritime sectors.
As highlighted in the Review, developing countries are not only users of shipping services but are increasingly participants in the provision of these services through the operation of seaports, the construction of ships, containers, and in the transport of equipment.
In shipbuilding (China and the Republic of Korea), scrapping (Bangladesh), and the provision of seafarers (Philippines), developing countries now account for more than three quarters of the world’s supply. Companies from Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore operate container terminals in many ports of the world, both in developing and in developed countries.
However, many least developed countries (LDCs) still do not have the ability to participate fully in the maritime businesses which increasingly require advanced technological capacities and the existence of industrial or service clusters. These countries are confronted with the double challenge of having to upgrade seaport facilities to accommodate larger ships, while seeing competition being reduced with fewer regular shipping services calling at their ports.