Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers
London & South East Branch

Impressive growth in China’s seaborne trade

Impressive growth in China’s seaborne trade

by Richard Scott FICS, London & South East Branch Committee, 5 April 2018

Recent statistics again emphasised just how much China’s seaborne trade contributes to the global shipping industry’s well-being. This contribution can be seen especially vividly as a proportion of world imports. 

Last year imports of all seaborne cargoes into China increased briskly by 8%, following a similar 7% rise in the previous year. The total for 2017 was 2,400 million tonnes according to figures compiled by Clarksons Research, comprising over one-fifth of world seaborne imports.

The latest annual growth rate and proportion of world trade are impressive, but even more remarkable is the expansion over the past decade in both of these aspects. During that period, from 2007 to 2017, China’s imports rose by 163% from an already large volume.

Among the three main cargo categories, dry bulk commodity imports were the star performer, almost tripling over the past ten years (up by 191%). Imports of goods normally transported in containers were the second strongest performer, up by 143%, while oil cargoes saw 129% growth. The remaining category of other cargo imports also expanded robustly. 

These remarkable growth rates were not matched by increases elsewhere, among other key economies generating large demand for imports. Included in that group are Europe, USA, Japan, and other Asian countries. 

So China became ever more influential on the global stage. As a proportion of global seaborne cargo imports, China’s share had already risen from about 5% in the early 2000s to 11% of the total in 2007. Since then the further remarkable upwards trend has taken China to 21% of world imports in 2017.

Many forecasters expect the trend to continue in the years ahead, although not necessarily as strongly. But as always there are many uncertainties, not least about how quickly the Chinese economy will progress as it transitions from a manufacturing and export led emphasis towards more services and domestic consumer spending.

As this piece is being written, there is the added imponderable of the trade dispute between China and the USA which could have a large impact if it remains unresolved.