As the pace of growth in Chinese seaborne imports has slowed, and prospects for a return to stronger rates of expansion appear to have diminished, focus on the potential for other countries to help provide impetus to global seaborne trade growth has increased. With an economy expanding at a robust pace, and a population close to China’s, India has increasingly featured in the spotlight.

The Big Bang

China’s dramatic growth and increased raw material demand since the turn of the century propelled world seaborne trade to new heights. By 2014, China’s imports of dry bulk goods, crude oil and oil products reached 1,850mt, 1,600mt more than in 2000. China’s industry-led development saw unparalleled growth in steel output, whilst refinery capacity and coal imports surged. But with coal demand and steel output falling, imports stalled in 2015.

A Dimmer Light?

This rapid expansion in China’s imports occurred fairly quickly, and comparison to a ‘base year’ shows that Indian imports are tracking behind China’s progression. In 2000, China’s GDP per capita stood at US$1,000, and the country’s dry bulk and oil imports topped 200mt. India reached both of these milestones in 2007, and since then, Indian imports have risen by 280mt to around 500mt, compared to China’s 950mt of extra imports between 2000 and 2009. Differing political systems and economies have clearly proved key. Industry accounts for a greater share of China’s GDP than India’s, whilst 25% of growth in the value of India’s trade in the last ten years (in both goods and services) was accounted for by the service sector, compared to 12% for China.

Reaching For The Stars

The concern for some shipping sectors is that the pace of growth in India’s import volumes already appears to be slowing, partly as targets for thermal coal self-sufficiency have undermined coal imports since mid-2015. Meanwhile, India is aiming to become a ‘global manufacturing hub’, with ambitious targets to treble steel production capacity to 300mt by 2025. However, the steel industry globally is currently under severe stress, and it is also unclear to what extent output growth may boost iron ore imports given India’s domestic ore reserves.

What Do The Skies Hold?

Nevertheless, India seems to hold plenty of potential in some areas. The outlook for imports of coking coal, crude oil and oil products still appears positive. And at a macro level, in 2015, India’s dry bulk and oil imports represented 0.4 tonnes per capita, below the global average of 1.0 tonnes per capita. Bringing India towards this level could generate significant additional import volumes.

So, the stars don’t seem to be in a hurry to line up Indian imports for growth on this explosive scale for now, with coal imports likely to fall further. But this may not be the end of the story. Growth in India’s refinery capacity, steel production, GDP and population looks set to outpace China’s in the coming years. Whilst Indian imports may not dazzle in some areas as brightly as China’s have, the shipping industry will still be hoping they may provide some sparkle in others.

SIW1217

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