COVID-19: Shipping data hints to some recovery in global trade

The coronavirus pandemic dealt a severe blow to global merchandise trade. Data from weekly port calls by container ships show early but uneven signs of recovery.

The number of ships pulling into ports to unload and load containers rebounded in many parts of the world in the third quarter of 2020, according to new UNCTAD calculations.

This offers a hopeful sign for world merchandise trade, which suffered a historic year-on-year fall of 27% in the second quarter.

Maritime shipping saw a dramatic slowdown earlier this year as government measures used to curb the COVID-19 pandemic restricted economic activities and travel. By mid-June, the average number of container vessels arriving weekly at ports worldwide had sunk to 8,722, an 8.5% year-on-year drop.

But new data show that, globally, the average weekly calls have started to recover, rising to 9,265 by early August, just 3% below the levels of one year earlier.

Most of the manufactured goods that we produce and consume are shipped in containers, says Shamika N. Sirimanne, director of UNCTADs technology and logistics division. The latest containership port call patterns therefore offer a ray of hope for economic recovery from the pandemic.

A new UNCTAD article explores how data on the movement of vessels which carry over 80% of the goods traded globally can help policymakers navigate the troubled waters of a crisis while they wait for official statistics on trade and gross domestic product.

Even in the absence of official trade stat....

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