Robust Growth in African Container Imports Driven by Asian Trade Surge

Africa’s Ports Experience Impressive Expansion Amidst Rising Demand and Trade Trends

Containerized imports into Africa have displayed robust growth in the first seven months of this year, achieving a 10.1% increase compared to the same period in 2019 and a notable 6.7% surge when juxtaposed with the historically high levels of 2022, according to a report by Maersk Broker, a prominent entity in the maritime industry. The primary impetus behind this remarkable expansion has been the surge in trade activities from Asia to the African west coast. This trade corridor, in particular, has witnessed an extraordinary 20.9% surge in trade volume in comparison to the previous year. Concurrently, the flow of goods from the Middle East and South America to West Africa has further contributed to this upswing.

Remarkably, this buoyant trend is also conspicuous in the deployment of tonnage on the Asia-West Africa trade route. In October of this year, the deployed tonnage has expanded by a substantial 22.3% in twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) terms, when compared to the equivalent period in 2022, as reported by Maersk Broker.

Container Trade Statistics data reinforces this growth, affirming that the Asia-Africa market stands as the most robustly growing ex-Asia market in 2023. In year-to-date figures for August 2023, the year-on-year volume growth has soared to 19.6%, marking a stark contrast to the global contraction of -3.3%.

Nonetheless, it is important to note that the Asia-Africa trade, while exhibiting impressive growth, remains a relatively modest segment of the global deep-sea trade. In 2023 year-to-date, it represents a mere 3.2% of global deep-sea volumes, significantly overshadowed by the 17.9% market share of the Asia-North America trade route and the 14.7% share held by the Asia-Europe trade lane.

The growing urbanization across various African regions is driving a surge in demand for a diverse range of containerized goods, including building materials, electronics, and furniture. This surge in demand is expected to persist, as articulated in the latest weekly container report from Maersk Broker.

Notably, among all the trade lanes monitored by UK consultancy Maritime Strategies International (MSI), the Asia-to-Africa route has stood out as the one experiencing the most substantial growth in the current year.

However, some experts in the industry, like Lars Jensen, CEO of container advisory Vespucci Maritime, have expressed a somewhat tempered outlook on this growth. Jensen described the growth as “okay” and highlighted that the trade route had already experienced nearly 7% growth in 2019, prior to the onset of the pandemic. Thus, he suggested that the current expansion might be more about catching up with the pre-pandemic trajectory.

Furthermore, Alan Murphy, CEO of Danish liner consultancy Sea-Intelligence, commented on the challenges inherent in the Asia-Africa trade, which have included high vessel delays, schedule unreliability, and a significant level of disruptions and exception handling. These challenges underline the complexity of the trade route and the need for continued improvement in operational efficiency and reliability to sustain its growth.

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