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U.N. report says global shipping trade hurting in COVID-19 era

Containers are off-loaded from cargo ships at the Port of Oakland in Oakland, Calif. Thursday's report said maritime trade should rebound next year, if the global economy recovers from the impact of COVID-19. File Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI
Containers are off-loaded from cargo ships at the Port of Oakland in Oakland, Calif. Thursday's report said maritime trade should rebound next year, if the global economy recovers from the impact of COVID-19. File Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 12 (UPI) -- A United Nations report on Thursday said the COVID-19 pandemic has put the global shipping trade in a grim position, with further dwindling revenues and interruptions in key supply chains possible if the crisis isn't controlled in the near future.

The U.N. Conference on Trade and Development said in its annual report, "Review of Maritime Transport 2020," that its forecast for maritime trade growth this year has been cut to 4.1%.

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The assessment emphasized that the shipping trade had already been "pretty depressed" before the pandemic arrived.

"The sector is at a pivotal moment facing not only immediate concerns resulting from the pandemic but also longer-term considerations," the UNCTAD said, "ranging from shifts in supply-chain design and globalization patterns to changes in consumption and spending habits."

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The agency added that the pandemic is also negatively influencing "global sustainability and low-carbon agenda."

"[COVID-19] has upended the landscape for maritime transport and trade and significantly affected growth prospects," the agency added. "The volume of international maritime trade [will] fall by 4.1% in 2020. Amid supply-chain disruptions, demand contractions and global economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic, the global economy was severely affected by a twin supply and demand shock.

"These trends unfolded against the backdrop of an already weaker 2019 that saw international maritime trade lose further momentum."

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UNCTAD said the shipping sector has been forced to make sacrifices amid weaker global oil demand and tariff wars between the United States, China and the European Union.

"All in all, maritime transport and logistics kept essential goods and trade flows moving," said Shamika Sirimanne, UNCTAD Division on Technology and Logistics director. "Ships moved, ports kept open. So we should be thankful to the maritime sector that people still could buy food and medicine and essential goods in our neighborhood shops, even though we were in a very strict lockdown."

UNCTAD said it expects maritime trade to return to a positive territory in 2021 and grow by almost 5% -- but only if there is a minimum level of global economic recovery.

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Thursday's report recommends the shipping industry prepare for long-term changes ushered in by the coronavirus crisis, as well as environmental concerns that have endured for years.

"The momentum of current efforts to address carbon emissions from shipping and the ongoing energy transition away from fossil fuels should be maintained," Sirimanne said.

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