Although the broad outlook for commodity imports into a wide range of countries looks favourable, some differences among elements are prominent. During 2021 as a whole, global seaborne dry bulk trade is expected to achieve a solid recovery after last year’s pandemic-affected weakening, followed by further growth.
The latest (end July) International Monetary Fund forecast of global economic activity reinforces optimism. Despite added doubts about progress in emerging market and developing economies, world gross domestic product growth is still estimated at 6% in 2021, with potential for almost 5% further expansion in 2022. However downside risks, including vaccine access, remain a threat, according to this new analysis.
News items about coal consumption around the world often have a negative tone. There is a heavy focus on the climate-change contribution of this energy source and the need for a diminishing role over the years ahead. Yet, while this overshadows the longer-term outlook for seaborne trade, signs continue to point to a moderate trade revival in 2021, partly reversing last year’s decline with an increase of perhaps 4–6%.
A component which may not share in the strengthening trend is coking coal imports into Asia, the main parts of which are shown in table 1. But the small 2% reduction envisaged within this group reflects a possible decline in China, prospects for which are hazy because import demand is not entirely reflecting commercial influences. In other countries including major importers India and Japan, upturns are foreseeable.
Steel output in the first half of 2021 provided firm support for iron ore use and trade. World Steel Association figures show crude steel production in raw materials importing countries recovering rapidly from the low volumes seen in the same period of last year. India achieved a 31% increase to 57.9mt (million tonnes), while the European Union saw a 18% rise to 77.8mt. Japan’s 14% rise to 48.1mt was accompanied by 12% growth in China to 563.3mt.
While positive trends seem likely to persist in many countries over the months ahead, there is some uncertainty about China. In the first half of this year, China’s iron ore imports growth was much lower than seen in steel production, at under 3%, raising the volume to 560.7mt. Tentative signs have emerged pointing to slackening support for steel demand during the second half, restraining output and ore requirements.
Over the past twelve months a large global trade expansion has been unfolding in the wheat and coarse grains segment of grain and soya trade. In the soyabeans and meal component growth has been comparatively modest and could remain slow.
According to US Department of Agriculture calculations, world trade in soyabeans and meal may see only marginal 1% growth in the 2020/21 marketing year ending September, raising the total to 229.1mt. While imports into many countries are rising, China’s volume is expected to be about 1% lower at 98.1mt. Elsewhere limited increases are envisaged in other Asian importers and the European Union, and also among other importers around the world.
Growth in seaborne aluminium raw materials trade — bauxite and the processed alumina — was rapid last year, contrasting with declines in many other minor bulks. The world total reached about 165mt, mainly reflecting strong expansion of China’s imports. Another sizeable increase in global trade could unfold this year, amid recovery in aluminium using industries benefiting primary aluminium production.
Newbuilding deliveries augmenting the world bulk carrier fleet’s capacity in 2021 are set to fall compared with last year, as shown in table 2. A total in the 36–38 million deadweight tonnes range seems likely, a reduction of about a quarter. This decline is expected to contribute to fleet growth deceleration.
Source: Richard Scott, Bulk Shipping Analysis, Tel: +44 (0)12 7722 5784; Fax: +44 (0)12 7722 5784; e-mail: