This week, the Bank of England put into place its action plan following the UK referendum on 23rd June, which indicated the British population’s preference to leave the European Union. While the political dust has yet to settle, shipping market observers have had time to form their views on the impact of ‘c’ on the industry. This week’s Analysis attempts to put the UK and the EU’s role in shipping in context.
Once upon a time, of course, Britannia ‘ruled the waves’ and Great Britain, with its colossal maritime heritage (remember the British Empire?) was one of the world’s leading lights in ship ownership and shipbuilding. Today the story is a little different. UK owners account for just 2% of the global fleet in GT terms. The EU as a whole, however, remains a significant player, with 36% of world tonnage. While market share has shifted to the Asia-Pacific (39%), EU owners have held their own, led by the world’s largest owner nation in Greece, which has not been subject to its own ‘Grexit’ just yet.
Historically, Europeans were leading shipbuilders too, but in the modern era shipbuilding is dominated by Asia. In 2015, EU builders took 1.9m CGT of new orders (over 1,000 GT), 5% of the global total, and today account for 8% of the orderbook in CGT, whilst China, Korea and Japan together account for 84%. Europeans are now largely builders in the niche markets, dominating the cruise sector and maintaining a focus on small ships. Within the EU, the UK’s contribution is limited, with just two merchant vessels over 1,000 GT built since 2011.
In terms of trade, the UK, given its status as the world’s 5th largest economy, accounts for a significant volume of imports and exports. However, in a global context these account for a relatively modest share. The UK’s imports account for an estimated 2% of global seaborne trade and its exports 1%. The EU, meanwhile, is much more significant, as befits its role as the world’s largest trading bloc, accounting for an estimated 16% of seaborne imports and 12% of exports.
One area where the UK and Europe maintain importance is as service providers. The UK is the world’s 14th largest flag and EU flags account for 18% of world tonnage. Lloyd’s Register in the UK is still a leading class society and along with DNV-GL and BV, the EU’s heavy-hitters, class 44% of the world fleet. Furthermore, London still remains one of the world’s pre-eminent maritime business hubs at the forefront of legal services, insurance and shipbroking too!
Wider, Still & Wider
However ‘Brexit’ plays out, it won’t go without notice. In fleet ownership or trade terms, the UK alone is not so significant (though the EU as a whole is). Perhaps the more important impact might be the wider fallout of uncertainty (or worse) surrounding one of the world’s largest economies. Meanwhile, the UK will be hoping that London can retain its role at the centre of commercial maritime affairs. Leaver or Remainer, have a nice day.