Trade slowdown hampers world's top port race
There is just one quarter left of this wretched year and certain port bosses in the region will be feeling the stomach butterflies beginning to flutter.
For some reason, annual container throughput has always been the measure by which ports are judged instead of total tonnage, or even total revenue.
Container throughput is tallied according to the number of box moves and this conveniently allows ports with transshipment volumes to count their containers twice, inflating numbers.
For instance, as a huge hub port, around 95 percent of Singapore’s throughput is destined for somewhere else, so the actual number of containers crossing its wharves can be doubled. This enabled Singapore to knock Hong Kong off its “world’s busiest port” perch in 2005.
Not that Hong Kong does it any differently. Roughly half of Hong Kong’s annual volume is cargo for transshipment and is therefore counted twice.
Just over the fence from Hong Kong is the port complex of Shenzhen. It is actually four ports – Shekou, Dachan Bay and Chiwan in the west and Yantian in the east – but the difference is that, like the Yangtze River Delta terminals in and around Shanghai, most of the containers handled are for direct exports. That means they are counted only once, but are worth around a third more in economic value.
However, such has been the growth over the last few years that Shanghai in 2008 overtook Hong Kong to claim second and Shenzhen is poised to slide into third place.
As the year draws to a close, those port bosses will be anxiously poring over container throughput reports to see the impact of the slowdown in export volumes.
Singapore has been hit hard by declining transshipment and with not much of a peak season to count on it will finish the year short of last year’s total. But the good news (for port marketing departments, at least) is that the once-booming China ports are now being referred to as “the once-booming China ports”.
That is the flip side of having no transshipment volumes. Shenzhen and Shanghai have nothing to count twice and therefore cannot rely on the handy “throughput inflation” to boost the numbers. This may result in a shake up of the top four, although Singapore will probably remain on top for its final year as the world’s busiest port.
Top 4 Box Ports 2008 (TEU):
Hong Kong, 24.28m