Despite a general softening in Asia to Mediterranean trade at the end of 2017, it is still expected to be one of the better performers in 2018, shipping consultancy Drewry said.
The predictions are based on the improving conditions in major importing countries such as Turkey, the Ukraine and Egypt.
Following bumper growth in the second and third quarters, box traffic from Asia to the Mediterranean slowed in the final three months of the year. Shipments in the fourth quarter rose by only 1% year-on-year as a decent performance in the East Med region was effectively wiped out by a sudden slump to West Med imports.
Asian exports to the East Med increased by 5% in the fourth quarter, only about half the year-on-year rates that were achieved in the two previous quarters, while the West Med trade went into reverse, falling by 3.4% to register the first decrease in nine quarters.
Despite the weaker than expected end to the year, combined Asia to East and West Med volumes reached 5.5 million TEU in 2017, an increase of 4.4% on 2016.
The East Med countries making the biggest contributions to last year’s higher westbound trade were Turkey, the Ukraine and Slovenia, which between them were responsible for 110,000 TEU of the additional 150,000 TEU imported into the region from Asia. Egypt is yet to emerge the other side in relation to inbound container volumes.
Growth in the West Med stemmed almost exclusively to the three largest markets, namely, Italy, Spain and France. Containership capacity in the westbound Asia to Mediterranean route continues to rise incrementally, driven by the cascade of bigger ships into the market rather than new service starts.
Drewry research indicates that effective monthly capacity will pass 600,000 TEU in March, which would represent an increase of nearly 20% over the same month in 2017.
Asia-Med spot rates, as elsewhere, have mounted their usual pre-Chinese New Year comeback.
“We expect rates to soften now that the factories are shuttered for the festivities, before stabilising through the rest of the year,” Drewry said.