“Stagnation” seen in global freight flows

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Now, a caveat from the start: the global data collected and analyzed by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and International Transport Forum (ITF) you’ll read about in a moment or two only goes through December 2011, meaning the first five months of 2012 aren’t part of the worrisome freight outlook generated by the two groups.

Despite that factoid, though, the trends indicated by OECD’s and ITF’s analysis gives one pause.

The overall picture for global freight remains weak, according to the two groups, with total external trade tonnage by sea remaining “stagnant” in their words below “pre-crisis” levels (as in prior to the start of the Great Recession in 2008) in the U.S. and among the 27-member nations of the European Union (EU-27) – down a respective 3% and 5%.

Freight transport by air slows down further in the last quarter, with external trade by air from the U.S. and EU-27 dipping to and below their pre-crisis levels by December last year.

In general, demand remains weak in advanced economies. Imports by sea to the EU-27 area have declined throughout 2011 and were 14% below their pre-crisis levels at the end of last year, with imports by air also continuing on a downward trend, finishing 2011 at only 5% above pre-crisis levels.

Weak performance of road and rail freight in the EU-27 and the U.S. also indicates weak domestic demand, according to the OECD’s and ITF’s numbers, with road freight within the EU continuing to recover only slowly, with volumes still 8% below the pre-crisis peak. Rail freight in the EU and the U.S. also declined by 9% and 4%, respectively, below pre-crisis levels, both groups noted.

[Let’s take a tangent for a minute: in the clip below, Alain Flausch – Secretary-General of the International Association of Public Transport – talks about how “seamless transportation networks” in the near future could help significantly relieve traffic congestion; a trend could really be a boon for freight haulers.]

However – and I think this is important – those are near-term trend lines for global freight transport. Longer term, however, the picture is much brighter. Indeed the OECD projects that global freight volumes by 2050 could be two to four times as large as they are today.

On top of that, within OECD nations, freight volumes could double; outside the OECD, though, they could be more than five times as large, noted OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría during the presentation of the group’s Transport Outlook 2012.

“Transport and technology form the backbone of global trade,” he added. “Connecting places and people creates opportunities for new markets and better connections can increase productivity. Making well-targeted investments in new capacity and intelligent, smart mobility technologies and ensuring their best possible use can provide a new source of growth.”

Let’s indeed that view holds true as struggle through the near-term bumps and dips of the freight world. 

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