SIW1066imagelBack in February we took a look at China’s impressive role in the growth of seaborne trade over the last decade. An astonishing 51% of seaborne growth in the period 2001-12 was accounted for by the Chinese economy, leaving no doubt as to the key driver behind the robust level of trade growth, at least as far as the demand side is concerned.

Two Sides to Every Story?

But as the old Motown classic has it – “It Takes Two”. For every tonne of Chinese seaborne imports there’s an exporter out there somewhere. The largest part of the tonnage growth in Chinese imports has been in the raw materials which have provided the inputs into China’s industries, and these come from various global origins. But has the growth on the export side been as dominated by one source as the imports?

Spread It All Over

In the period 2001-12 global sea-borne trade has grown by 3.3 billion tonnes of which 2.9 billion tonnes or 86% has been in the major traded commodities – major bulks, crude oil and products, gas and containers. The graph shows the absolute volume of exports of these commodities by region in 2012 along with the total tonnage growth in the period 2001-12. The labels indicate the share of that growth by region. The manipula-tion of trade data can be an imperfect science but these esti-mates show the key trends.

Asia-Pacific, Again

Once again Asia-Pacific is to the fore, with Asia and Oceania leading the export growth (737mt, 28% of the world total and 478mt, 18% respectively). China has been a key exporter of manufactures in containers to the developed (and increasingly the developing) world, but the key drivers in tonnage terms are Australian bulk exports and the developing intra-Asian trade in dry bulk.

Minority Report

But this time Asia accounts for far from the majority of the growth. Europe has contributed 18% (467 mt) with some growth in container and oil product exports. Latin America accounted for 11% of the expansion (283 mt), led by iron ore and coal exports, with Middle East exports, driven by crude oil exports accounting for 9% (244 mt) of the total.

North America contributed 8% of the total (217 mt) with the shifting energy balance leading to increased products and steam coal exports, whilst Africa accounted for 6% (166 mt) on the back of Nigerian and Angolan oil exports but with the promise of more growth to come from energy discoveries and mineral deposits in both West and East Africa.

New Perspective

So there you have it. Although from an import perspective trade growth is dominated by one economy, from the export side it looks very different. Almost all regions have contributed and seaborne trade doesn’t look quite so much of a one trick pony. It takes two to tango, and seaborne exports remain firmly global.