Antwerp’s breakbulk sector continues to be battered

Antwerp’s breakbulk sector has taken another massive beating in the first quarter of 2020, dropping a staggering 27.8%. The Antwerp port authority says “the vicissitudes of world trade since mid-2019 continue to weigh on the breakbulk volume.”

According to the port authority, the trade dispute between the US and China is still having a significant effect on the port and this has now been worsened by the first effects of the coronavirus outbreak.

As a result, the breakbulk volume has declined by 27.8%, with imports being hit harder than exports. Iron and steel, which is considered the most important category in Antwerp’s breakbulk segment, continued its negative trend with a contraction of 36.8%.

The shutdown in the car trade inflicted a double blow on the breakbulk volume, with reduced steel imports on the one hand and an 18% drop in the number of new cars on the other. The total ro/ro volume was down by 20.3%.

Despite the sharp decline in breakbulk, the port’s total throughput was still up 4% to 59.1 million tonnes. Container volume increased by 9.5% to just over 3 million TEU (or 35.9 million tonnes), while liquid bulk increased by 0.7% to 17.2 million tonnes and dry bulk was up 1.2% to 3.2 million tonnes.

Covid-19 impact

The impact of the crisis during the first quarter has remained fairly limited, but it will become apparent in the second quarter, the port authority warns. The port is currently hit by cancelled departures, large sectors of the industry being shut down and changing patterns of consumer behaviour.

How severe the impact will be is impossible to predict, the port states. Much will depend on how quickly the industry is able to start up again and consumer confidence to return.

“Thanks to its worldwide connectivity and the diversity of its trade, Port of Antwerp is less dependent on specific markets. Moreover, the port has enormous storage capacity that can act as a buffer for the economy, which will permit faster restarting of industry and recovery of consumption in Belgium and part of Europe”, Port of Antwerp CEO Jacques Vandermeiren said.

Author: Tobias Pieffers

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