Antwerp and Rotterdam Ports not yet suffering too badly

The European Union is considering levying a carbon tax on all shipping movements.

The two key European ports of Antwerp and Rotterdam have had varying experiences of the first quarter of the year, despite both feeling the effects of the COVID-19 crisis.

The Port of Antwerp reported on Friday, 10th April, that from January-to-March 2020 its container throughput grew by 9.5% year-on-year to 3.02m TEU. This was driven by what the port called “long-life foodstuffs”, e-commerce related traffic and pharmaceuticals. The only region to see a fall in its trade volume was the Far East, which saw traffic down 2.2%.

Although it might be tempting to think that Antwerp’s numbers do not reflect the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, by March some parts of the Port’s trade had already begun to suffer. For example, breakbulk traffic fell by 27.8% driven by a fall in steel demand whilst a decline in car imports and exports of 18% contributed to a 20.3% fall in ro-ro activity.

Dry bulk edged up by 1.2%, liquid bulk edged down by 0.7% but chemical demand was up by 4%. Total freight volume overall for the Port was up by 4% year-on-year for the quarter.

Rotterdam’s experience was not quite so happy. Container traffic fell for the period January-to-March by 4.7% to 3.5m TEU, a contrast to Q1 2019’s record growth. Although deep-sea container shipping volumes were up, short-sea traffic was down 4.5% due to falling consumer demand. Volumes from China were down 2.8%. Both dry bulk and liquid bulk were down by 13.9% hit by lower coal demand in Germany and changes in oil product traffic between Russia and Singapore. LNG, however, was robust.

Allard Castelein, CEO of the Port of Rotterdam Authority commented that he felt “the impact of a decline in demand due to the corona crisis will become clear from April onwards”…with a “10 to 20% drop in throughput volume on an annual basis” seeming to be very likely.

The comparison of the two numbers is interesting. Antwerp appears to once again have a notable performance in its container trade and it will be interesting to see if it can sustain this in the volatile market conditions ahead.

Source: Transport Intelligence, April 16, 2020

Author: Thomas Cullen