Money, or even love if you prefer, are claimed to make the world go round. For the shipping world, however, it’s trade that sets things spinning. Those wishing to grasp the magnitude of world seaborne trade might want to consider that it is projected to close in on 11 billion tonnes in 2015. Examining the statistics in more detail sheds further light on its role in the world economy.

What’s In The Basket?

Seaborne trade is made up of a wide range of commodities. Tankers and bulkers carry a huge amount of the tonnage. This year, the 11.0 billion tonnes (bt) will include of 3.2 bt of major bulks, another 1.5 bt of minor bulks and 2.8 bt of crude oil and refined oil products. But there’s plenty of room for other cargo too. Manufactures take their place with 1.7 bt of containerised cargo (which punches further above its weight in value terms) and another 1.1 bt of other non-bulk dry cargo (some still ripe for containerization). More specialised shipping completes the set, with 0.6 bt of liquefied gas trade and chemicals trade combined. These components tell us a lot about the shipping model, and the last two SIW feature articles noted the role of China: importing industrial raw materials in bulk, and exporting manufactures on containerships.

Popular Concept

This year world seaborne trade is projected to represent 1.5 tonnes of cargo for each person on the planet, up from 1.0t in 2000. As economic growth continues in developing economies, populations typically contribute more to world seaborne trade on a per capita basis, and as they ‘catch up’ with western world levels this drives increased trade (and a higher ratio). Even if the ratio remains unchanged, the current projection of 8.4 bn people on the planet by 2030 would mean an extra 1.7 bt of seaborne trade.

Multiplier Effect

Then there’s the ‘multiplier’ effect. Over the last 5 years, for example, the growth in world seaborne trade has clocked in on average at 1.13 times more than the growth in the world economy. As globalisation has taken hold, international trade has typically grown more quickly than world economic output. Seaborne container trade, for example, has enabled the connection of distant producers and consumers, and also the component trade enabling multi-location manufacture connected by low unit cost shipping. Discovery of natural resources in locations other than economic growth centres also helps. In 2015, the world economy is expected to grow by 3.5% but world seaborne trade is expected to grow more quickly, by 4.1%.

Keep It Going Round

Since the decline in 2009, seaborne trade growth has been quite consistent, averaging about 4%. Without the huge fleet dwt growth of 55% in the period 2008-14, the market downturn might have been less severe. On Shipping Intelligence Network, monthly tables and our Seaborne Trade Monitor report provide regularly updated seaborne trade statistics. At a rough estimate, seaborne trade constitutes over 80% of the global total volume by all modes. That’s some achievement, and until the world comes up with an alternative, it will keep on making the world go around. Have a nice day.