Leading shipbrokers believe continued Chinese demand will drive 2010 global seaborne trade in iron ore past 1bn tonnes for the first time.
Maersk Broker has forecast Chinese iron ore imports to grow by 7% this year to 679m tonnes, compensating for decreased European and Japanese demand, taking total trade to 1.02bn tonnes.
The billion tonne milestone comes at a time of major uncertainty for global fleet of dry bulk carriers, which face potentially crippling oversupply, with shipyard scheduled to deliver a record of 1,500 vessels ordered at the height of the five-year shipping supercycle.
But despite slowing iron ore demand, many analysts remain bullish about shipments to China, whose voracious preference for cheaper, higher-quality imported ore over its domestic supplies singlehandedly propped up the dry bulk market in 2009.
Mines owned by Australian and Brazilian exporters will be close to 100% capacity in 2010, Maersk Broker said in its quarterly report, with Australian exports at 394m tonnes, and Brazil at 295m.
"In India, on the other hand, exports are expected to decline to 65m tonnes as increasing domestic demand will absorb the assumed increases in iron ore production," Maersk Broker said.
London broker Simpson, Spence & Young also forecast, seaborne iron ore trade will reach 1.01bn tonnes in 2010, a jump of 90m tonnes on 2009 levels.  The latest estimates from Clarkson research Services, a key shipping forecaster, have 2010 iron ore trade at 991m tonnes, just short of billion-tonne landmark.