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Unctad warns against inflation in the face of disruptions to maritime transport


The pandemic has amplified the challenges that already existed in maritime transport, resulting in tensions on supply chains and inflationary pressures that may affect in particular island states and least developed economies, warns UNCTAD on Thursday.

In 2020, the shock of the covid on maritime trade turned out to be less serious than initially feared, according to the annual report of this United Nations economic think tank on the sector. The contraction of maritime cargoes was limited to 3.8%, to 10.65 billion tons, quantified this report of the United Nations Development Conference (UNCTAD), reflecting the initial shock on the economy, before that a recovery does not begin “asymmetric»During the second half of the year which exposed the weaknesses of maritime transport, including labor shortages and infrastructure needs in the sector.

Freight rates have since experienced spectacular peaks, with significant price increases on the horizon for consumers, due to bottlenecks in supply chains, underlined the UNCTAD which expects a rebound of 4 , 3% of maritime cargoes in 2021. The rebound in international trade has come up against logistical problems, in particular shortages of equipment, containers and port congestion which lengthen waiting times, leading to an increase in costs maritime transport.

However, if the current surge in freight prices continues, it will lead to a significant increase in import and consumer prices, UNCTAD warned. According to its projections, consumer prices are likely to increase by 1.5% globally by 2023, but the rise in prices could climb to 7.5% in small island states, which are highly dependent on of the sea for their supplies, and 2.2% in the least developed economies. Import prices could jump 11% on average globally, with increases of up to 24% in small island states. The consequences of the health crisis “hit small island developing states and least developed countries hardest”, Warned Rebeca Grynspan, Secretary General of Unctad, in the press release accompanying the report.

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Changing crews

The pandemic exposed the vulnerabilities of shipping, especially when the port of Yantian in China had to close in May to fight an outbreak of coronavirus, causing significant delays in the unloading of boats, or when the vessel Ever Given was found stranded in the Suez Canal in March. Some of the ships had to revise their route and pass through the Cape of Good Hope, with the consequence of increasing the cost of their journey.

Unctad also alerted to the changing of crews, in this sector which employs more than 1.9 million people worldwide. Since the start of the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of sailors have been stranded at sea, due to border closures or lack of planes to return home when crew changes, UNCTAD calling on governments and employers to work together, in particular by giving them priority for vaccination, in order to facilitate their return.

According to the Seaexplorer platform of the Swiss group Kuhne-Nagel, some 565 ships were stranded at the entrance to the ports on November 16. In the third quarter, this Swiss group saw its turnover jump by 120% in its logistics activities for maritime transport. Danish shipowner AP Moeller-Maersk has raised its growth forecast for 2021 three times, reporting a 67% jump in turnover in the third quarter.

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