South East Asia sees huge growth in trade with US

The Nikkei newspaper in Tokyo has drawn attention to a report from the Japan Maritime Institute, which regularly publishes analysis of global shipping trends based on ‘PIERS’ data, which is derived from bills of lading sent to the US Customs. The analysis published in March 2021, of data from the first quarter of the year, shows that imports into the US originating in the ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) region now account for more than 23% of imports measured in terms of the number of containers handled. This is markedly less than the 58.9% accounted for by China, however, ASEAN’s numbers are growing whereas China’s have been shrinking. Indeed, China’s share of traffic has shrunk for two years, with the past 12 months falling by 0.9%. Contrast this with Vietnam, which has volumes just 20% of that are from China but has seen those volumes jump by 24.8% year-on-year.

Port and customs data shows that one important trade for Vietnam is furniture. As a category of product, it is one of the most prominent exports into the US is measured by volume, with the e-retail boom apparently having fuelled furniture sales. Such is the scale of demand that US West Coast ports are having difficulty coping with the number of containers. In contrast, China is perceived to be suffering from the so-called ‘US-China trade war’ with non-Chinese producers aggressively diversifying away from reliance on China.

In the 1990s furniture was one of the pioneering sectors that helped China enter the world trading system. Loss of business here may be ascribed to China’s focus on other areas, none-the-less it is possibly a bellwether of future trends.

In terms of logistics provision, the growth in sourcing from South East Asia asks questions about the implications for logistics. The past thirty years have seen South East Asia’s most important port, Singapore, eclipsed by Shanghai and rivalled in size by a string of other Chinese ports. Present trends might imply that Singapore could resume its lead in terms of the largest container port but also place itself as the world’s leading logistics hub for air and land freight transport as well. There is also the question of the prospects for the expansion of ports in other parts of South East Asia, notably in Vietnam and Cambodia.

Source: Transport Intelligence, April 15, 2021

Author: Thomas Cullen