Reefer shipping trade to see annual growth of 3.7% to 2024

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The global seaborne reefer trade is expected to clock an annual expansion of 3.7% to reach 156m tonnes by 2024, according to a forecast by analyst Drewry.

In 2019, worldwide seaborne reefer trade grew by 1.7% to 130.5m tonnes, its weakest rate of growth since 2015. Traffic growth was held back due to lower shipments of both deciduous and citrus fruits on the back of extreme weather conditions in Europe and drought in South Africa and Chile, though aided by soaring pork traffic into China.

Looking ahead, the growth in seaborne perishable cargo is forecast to better weather the Covid-19 induced economic storm than the dry cargo trade, given the broader resilience of the food supply chain.

“Drewry expects the reefer trade to be more recession proof against the economic impacts of Covid-19,” said Drewry’s head of reefer shipping research Philip Gray. “And near term, it will continue to benefit from African swine fever induced protein demand into Asia. The continuing trade standoff between the US and China remains a threat to transpacific trade, but could provide opportunities on other routes through trade substitution, such as East Coast South America to Asia.”

Meanwhile, availability of refrigerated container equipment is forecast to tighten as buoyant trade and continued modal shift boost expansion in reefer cargo carried by containerships, according to Drewry.

As a consequence, the volume of reefer cargo carried by the world’s fleet of containerships expanded 3.4% in 2019 to 5.3m feu. And this trend is set to continue with Drewry forecasting average annual containerised reefer growth of approaching 5% in the period to 2024.

“However, availability of refrigerated shipping container equipment remains a challenge, due to the highly imbalanced nature of reefer trade routes. And Drewry expects conditions to tighten as equipment fleet growth is not expected to keep pace with projected cargo demand,” said Gray.