Maritime trade shrank by 3.8 percent in 2020, but later recovered and is estimated to grow by 4.3 percent this year, according to the report.
UNCTADs Maritime Transport Review 2021 reveals that the medium-term outlook remains positive but subject to growing risks and uncertainties, such as unprecedented pressures on global supply chains, dramatic increases in freight tariffs, and rising prices affecting consumers and importers.
Vaccine delivery is critical
The agency said the global socio-economic recovery will depend on smart, resilient and sustainable shipping, and a COVID-19 vaccination efforts that see developing countries have fairer access to doses.
A sustained recovery will depend on the pandemic route and largely depends on the ability to tame adverse winds and on a worldwide spread of the vaccine. said Rebeca Grynspan, UNCTAD Secretary General.
The impacts of the COVID-19 crisis will hit small developing island states (SIDS) and least developed countries (LDCs) the hardest. she added.
As UN chief Antnio Guterres has repeatedly pointed out, COVID-19 has highlighted numerous social inequalities.
Existing challenges exposed
UNCTAD said the pandemic has also exposed and exacerbated existing challenges in the shipping industry, particularly labor shortages and infrastructure needs.
The agency has called for urgent action to resolve the situation of hundreds of thousands of seafarers who remain stranded at sea due to the pandemic, as blockages, border closures and lack of international flights have affected crew replacements and repatriations.
The report said industry, governments and international organizations should ensure that seafarers are designated as key workers and vaccinated as a matter of priority.
The report examines the factors that are raising consumer prices.
Logistical challenges, increasing rates
The return to maritime trade has been marked by logistical challenges posed by the pandemic, such as lack of equipment and containers, less reliable services, and overcrowded ports. The resulting narrow supply chain bottlenecks have hampered economic recovery.
Challenges also exist on the supply side. Although orders for new container vessels fell 16 percent last year, continuing a previous downward trend, shipping companies have increased orders for new vessels this year amid current capacity constraints.
Transportation lines have benefited from rising freight tariffs, the report said.
Extra tariffs, tariffs and tariffs were temporarily raised even higher after the blockade of Ever Given, the largest container ship that blocked the Suez Canal last March, disrupting global trade.
UNCTAD warned that import and consumer prices would rise significantly if the increase in container shipping tariffs continued.
Monitor market behavior
Its analysis showed that global import price levels will increase by an average of 11 percent and up to 24 percent for SIDS, which mainly depend on maritime transport for imports.
If the situation continues, consumer prices could be 1.5 percent higher in 2023. Growth is expected to be 7.5 percent in SIDS and 2.2 percent in the LDC.
UNCTAD stressed the need to monitor market behavior and ensure transparency when it comes to setting tariffs, tariffs and surcharges.
The report also examines how the pandemic has accelerated megatrends that could transform shipping, such as digitalization and automation, which should lead to efficiency and cost savings.
Build climate resilience
The shipping industry is also facing climate adaptation and resilience, although the urgent need to decarbonize and find alternative fuels to reduce emissions will come at a cost.
Exposing the weaknesses of existing supply chains, the discontinuation of COVID-19 has sharpened the need to build resilience and revived the debate over globalization and supply chains of the future, said Shamika N. Sirimanne, director of technology and logistics at UNCTAD.
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