According to UNCTAD’s Review of Maritime Transport 2022 , the maritime transport and trade systems are evolving in complex global economic environment and being buffeted by cascading disruptions. But they are also being reshaped by other global factors that can trigger structural shifts.
hese include climate change and the energy transition, the need for sustainability and resilience, digitalization and e-commerce, and growing market and industry consolidation.
In particular, UNCTAD mentions the following key trends:
#1 E-commerce expansion outlives the pandemic driven by changing consumer habits and technology
Ecommerce is acutely time-sensitive so shipping and port operators need to speed up their services to remain competitive while also differentiating themselves. This will entail changing shipping patterns and port operations, and extending warehousing capacity. Going forward, digital tools that enable e-commerce growth, collaboration and data sharing will all be important for reaping the full benefits of the growing e-commerce segment.
#2 Digitalization transforms trade and transport
Digitally enabled shopping boosts trade. At the same time, other technologies, such as automation which may reduce the need to offshore production to take advantage of lower labour costs, will probably constrain trade flows. Either way, maritime transport and trade will need to adjust and adapt to technology, and an important part of this is to defend information and communication systems and infrastructure against ever present threats to cybersecurity. Governments and international organizations must therefore make every effort to close digital divides in transport and logistics and ensure that developing countries can also ride the digitalization wave.
#3 Frequent disruptions and geopolitical risks fuel supply chain reconfiguration debate
In 2022, supply chains were further threatened by the deteriorating geopolitical environment – especially those that relied on one or two suppliers, whether for food, energy or parts and components. These risks were spotlighted by the 2021–2022 semiconductor shortages, whose effects rippled across many industries, notably car manufacturing, electronics, and healthcare.
#4 Authorities need to ensure competitive markets in the face of industry consolidation
Vertical integration has enabled the four largest container shipping lines to offer more of their own terminal services. Today the two largest container terminal operators, in terms of throughput, are China Cosco Shipping and APM Terminals, both of which are affiliated to two major Chinese and Danish shipping lines. The most common form of collaboration is strategic alliances. Since 2015, the proportion of global capacity controlled by carrier members of such alliances has increased to more than 80 per cent. Today, the top nine container operators organize their East-West route services through three strategic alliances that include no smaller carriers. Integration has given carriers and their alliances stronger negotiating and bargaining positions vis-à-vis the port authorities, as they now have two seats at the table – as both tenants of terminals and providers of shipping services.
#5 To meet climate goals, shipping and ports look to alternative fuels
The most immediate way to reduce emissions is slow sailing. But ship owners can also retrofit their ships with energy-efficient technologies so as to use alternative fuels such as LNG, methanol, ammonia, or electricity, or make operational changes. This will drive up costs and affect insurance coverage, as well as future access to investment and capital. Alternative fuels currently cost two to five times as much as conventional fuel so are not yet commercially viable. Fleet owners can, however, keep their options open with dual-fuel vessels. As of 1 March 2022, almost 40 per cent of the orderbook consisted of ships capable of running on one or more fuels. To scale up the use of alternative fuels, ports need to provide low-emission energy supply infrastructure. Ports, carriers and everyone involved in maritime supply chains can redefine the competitive landscape for low-emission shipping. This could, however, create a two-tier system of ports and corridors in which only small proportion are alternative-energy-ready. This would limit the number of potential routes
#6 Climate change mitigation and adaptation in maritime transport: two sides of the same coin
To accelerate efforts on climate change mitigation, the IMO has started work on a revised GHG Strategy for consideration in 2023, as well as on mid-term measures, including some that are market-based. In addition, there are proposals to establish an International Maritime Research and Development Board, and a related fund which could finance the development of zero-GHG technologies to be available to all countries. Other proposals for market-based measures include the use of generated funds for financing climate change adaptation investments, especially in the most vulnerable economies. At the EU level, regulatory proposals are under consideration to extend the EU Emission Trading Scheme to maritime transport activities; if and when adopted, these could have potentially important implications for both intra and extra EU trade.
#7 Reducing pollution from shipping
Care should be taken in further related work to ensure that the manual effectively responds to the needs and concerns of claimants, including in vulnerable developing countries. In November 2021, reacting to the ever-growing crisis of plastic pollution the IMO adopted a strategy on marine plastic litter from ships. And in March 2022, UNEP adopted a resolution to start work towards an international legally binding instrument to end plastic pollution. Discussions also continue on elaborating the text of an international legally binding instrument under the UNCLOS 1982 on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.
#9 Maritime transport needs to keep pace with change and ensure resilience
Faced with a rapidly changing operating landscape, along sudden disruptions, the maritime trade and transport industry, including shipping, ports, and shippers, has little option but to keep pace with change. Returning to a pre-COVID and pre-war normal seems less and less likely, so maritime trade stakeholders will need to strike balances between a new, and often competing, sets of objectives and priorities. Already, and largely accelerated by the pandemic, industry stakeholders are shifting focus and revisiting plans and strategies. While the pace of this trend may vary across shipping segments and stakeholders, much of maritime transport industry is putting more priority on customer relations, managing risks, stronger planning, preparedness, resilience and digitalization. They are also increasingly reinventing their own image and service offerings including by tapping new business areas and frontiers with end-to-end control over supply chains.
#10 The maritime industry should also build women’s skills and achieve gender equality
The ports industry is still dominated by men. The UNCTAD TRAINFORTRADE Port Performance Scorecard (PPS) gathers data from 58 port entities and in 2021 found that women made up only 17 per cent of the overall port workforce. Most were employed in management where they were 43 per cent of workers, though the proportion was higher in Asia at 60 per cent. But for cargo handling women were only 8 per cent of workers, and for port operations only 6 per cent. Ports need to conduct more training for both women and men. In 2020–2021, training was only a small proportion of labour costs, partly because ports reallocated funds to managing the pandemic while also switching to cheaper online and distance learning.