Benefits to European exporters of Trump’s transpacific trade tussle will be short-lived if the tensions ease, as key EU economies flatline or contract.
European exporters may be enjoying the positive effects of the US-China trade tussle, but these benefits will be short-lived if the tensions ease, with key EU economies currently flatlining or already contracting – or if EU countries themselves are targeted more aggressively by the Trump administration.
Analysis in the latest Global Port Tracker by container shipping consultancy Hackett Associates show that Northern Europe’s top six box ports handled just over 3.8m teu in June, a 4.2% increase over the same month in 2018 but a 3% fall in volumes compared with the prior month of May this year.
The analyst projected that the second half of 2019 will see North European imports “barely hold on to positive growth” and that the first half of 2020 will be “negative”.
The report, covering container throughputs at Hamburg, Bremen/Bremerhaven, Rotterdam, Antwerp, Zeebrugge and Le Havre, said that total imports to Europe decreased by 2.7% in June, with a 0.1% dip in North Europe (up 2.1% year-on-year) and a 6.7% slide in the Mediterranean and Black Sea region (up 1.5% year-on-year).
Container traffic growth for the leading half dozen ports in northern Europe reached 5.3% in the second quarter of 2019 compared with like period 2018, which the report stated is the highest year-on-year growth since late 2017 and “much higher” than in the major ports in China (4.0%) and the US (2.2%).
The analyst said that the “tit for tat” trade tariffs between the US and China and the threat of sanctions “have led the global economy to a downturn domestically and reduced global trade”.
It continued: “The US ports experienced strong growth in late 2018, but in the second quarter of 2019 growth dropped to the lowest rate during the presidency of Donald Trump.
“If the trend is confirmed, it indicates that the trade conflict between China and the US – which continued to intensify during the past months – mostly affects trade between the two countries.”
But there is some cause for “rejoicing” among European exporters: “The mutual tariff increases between China and the US make European products more competitive in both markets. At the same time, Chinese and American exporters may seek to increasingly sell their production in Europe so European imports may also gain.”
But the report cautioned that the trade diversion effects will persist only as long as the trade conflict intensifies, and EU countries may also be targeted more aggressively by the Trump administration. “If European products are targeted by new trade barriers, this will have a direct impact on containerised trade,” the report noted.
The 2019 import forecast from GlobalPortTracker projects a 3.1% gain for Europe, with 25.9m teu. North Europe is projected to increase by 2.6% to 16.03m teu, while the Med-Black Sea region is projected to increase by 3.9%.
The 2019 export forecast projects a 1.5% increase for Europe, with a total of 21.75m teu, with North Europe increasing by 2.0% to reach 13.7m teu and the Med-Black Sea region increasing by 0.8%.