The vagaries of world trade
In last month’s Sea Breezes, John Young in his Maritime Log, reported news of the decline in container trade at the Port of Hamburg in the first half of this year. I was fascinated to read that the port’s position as China’s ‘gateway’ to Europe has swiftly changed from being a major advantage to a weakness as far as its 2015 trading position is concerned.
In previous editions of Sea Breezes, I have talked about the growing dominance of the Far East in world shipping – in shipbuilding, in the ownership of major shipping companies and in shaping the dynamics of world trade. In 2014, one in every three containers handled by the Port of Hamburg was arriving from or departing to China, but this year’s economic slowdown in China has significantly impacted on the German port.
Furthermore, a steep decline in trade with Russia has also affected volumes at Hamburg with over 30% less cargo handled between Hamburg and Russia in the first six months of 2014. Significant declines in container numbers handled in Russia’s Baltic ports have also been recorded – reflecting the deterioration in the political relationship and therefore trading relationship between Russia and the Western powers following Russia’s annexation of Crimea last year and the ongoing tensions in the rest of Ukraine.
The slowdown in the Chinese economy has triggered concern across the world in the last few months, but there is still great confidence in its future dominant role in the world economy. This was illustrated by UK Chancellor George Osborne’s trip to China in September when he unveiled plans to make China the second largest trading partner for the UK within the next decade.
However, the events so far this year, as indicated by the Port of Hamburg’s trading figures, shows that there is no such thing as a ‘safe bet’ in world trading patterns, and that ports and shipping companies alike are constantly at the mercy of global and regional economic and political dynamics.
HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR