Global Freight in Holding Pattern

Global freight volumes suggest continued uncertainty, according to the latest data collected by the International Transport Forum at the OECD through June 2012.

  • External trade by sea and by air, measured in tonnes of goods moved, remains stagnant below pre-crisis levels;
  • Diverging performance across European economies, with Germany showing resilience;
  • Dependency on Asia as the locomotive of global growth remains. Trade with Asia picks-up after signs of leveling off in the previous quarter;
  • Road and rail freight in the EU area fall further while rail freight in USA and Russia grow above pre-crisis levels.

The overall picture for global freight remains uncertain as EU-27 and USA trade continues to stagnate below the pre-crisis (June 2008) peak. Total external trade by air (in tonnes) for both USA and EU-27 fell back to pre-crisis levels in October 2011 and has hovered at -1% since then. Freight by sea in the United States has also remained constant around 6% below the pre-crisis peak since the last quarter. Similarly, trade by sea in EU-27 remains 1% below the pre-crisis peak.

Within EU-27, German and Dutch economies continue to show resilience to the overall weak performance in Europe. Germany’s total external trade by sea reached 12% above the pre-crisis level. Air freight data, however, shows sign of a slow down as imports have significantly receded from 46% to 19% above the pre-crisis peak. In contrast, overall trade by sea and by air in most other European countries remains below pre-crisis levels.

The ongoing “Euro-crisis” is reflected by falling imports, indicating weakening domestic demand, particularly in Greece. According to our seasonally adjusted preliminary data for June 2012, Greece’s imports, measured in tonnes of goods moved, declined to 41% and 50% below pre-crisis peaks for maritime and air transport respectively.

Domestic demand in Asian economies remains the locomotive for growth. EU-27 and USA exports to Asia by air show signs of picking up after a year of decline and stagnation. Exports by sea from EU-27 to Asia reached a new high for both EU and USA (61% and 25% above June 2008). EU-27 and USA imports from Asia by sea remain stagnant below the pre-crisis level. Overall, EU and USA total trade with Asia has rebounded, exceding pre-crisis levels with the exception of EU-27 trade by sea (-7%).

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