Signs of further growth in seaborne dry bulk trade have been reinforced by evidence of pickups under way in the economies of China, Japan, the USA and Europe. Additional import demand for raw materials, fuels, and other industrial commodities in many countries could be accompanied by larger requirements for grain and soya in some areas.

The latest (October) IMF assessment of the global outlook for economic activity suggests that a moderate strengthening is likely, despite slowdowns in several emerging countries. Cautious estimates point to the advanced country group’s GDP growth improving from a sluggish 1.2% this year to a more healthy 2% in 2014. But China’s economic growth is expected to continue slackening from 7.6% this year to 7.3% next year.


Seaborne coal trade prospects still look quite bright, and more expansion in the dominant steam coal sector is foreseeable. Much of this enlargement probably will be concentrated among Asian importers. As shown in table 1, key steam coal buyers in this region could see a 5% increase during 2013, raising their overall total to over 600mt (million tonnes), although in some individual countries very limited extra volumes are a possibility.

Coal’s expanding contribution to the global energy picture continues apace. Most attention is focused on China and India because of the large scale of potential import growth. But many other countries are significant. For example, reports suggest that Morocco’s annual purchases could rise steeply from the current 6mt when a new coal-fired power station is completed.


Recently revised forecasts by Australia’s Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics provide an optimistic view of global iron ore trade development. In 2013 the world total (which includes land movements, but is mostly seaborne) could increase by 90mt or 8%, reaching 1,216mt, followed by a further 91mt (7%) advance next year, to 1,307mt.

These BREE estimates are based on a positive view of China’s import demand, which contributes the largest part of the global growth envisaged. Extra imports into China are expected to comprise the majority of this year’s world increase. Next year, however, a larger proportion could be contributed by several other importers, possibly including a much bigger volume into India.


Estimates of China’s grain imports in the current 2013/14 crop year ending June are still being ratcheted upwards. This process is encouraging a brighter outlook for global trade, in the absence of signs of any large rises elsewhere. Among other importers negative changes are still prominent, including expected downturns in the Middle East and Europe.

Imports of wheat and coarse grains into Africa, a region comprising one-fifth of world trade, seem likely to be flat in the current crop year. There are no signs of greatly increased volumes into either North Africa of sub-Saharan Africa. The latest International Grains Council estimates showed North Africa’s total rising only marginally by 1%, to 35.1mt. In sub-Saharan Africa an unchanged 19.8mt is expected.


Various agricultural and related commodities form part of the minor bulk trade sector. Seaborne movements of oilseeds (excluding soyabeans) and meal, rice, sugar, plus fertilizers apparently totalled about 330mt last year, and some signs indicate a small increase in 2013.


Among bulk carrier size groups, the Capesize sector seems set to experience the sharpest deceleration in fleet growth during 2013. Newbuilding deliveries will be greatly reduced, possibly by as much as 45% (table 2). Despite the large reduction in scrapping which is also likely, the Capesize fleet’s expansion this year may be down to under 6%, about half of last year’s expansion and well below the very rapid growth seen previously. From 279m dwt at end-2012, a total of about 295m dwt at the end of this year is estimated.