Slowing World Trade Impacts Port of Rotterdam Volumes (18 FEB 2020)

The Port of Rotterdam’s freight throughput remained flat in 2019, as growth in international trade lost momentum.

The port saw a freight throughput of 469.4 million tons in 2019, fractionally higher than 469 million tons in 2018.

As explained, significant underlying shifts were observable between the various commodities. Whereas container, crude oil, LNG and biomass throughputs increased, coal and mineral oil product throughputs decreased.

Following a good start in the first six months of 2019, growth in container transhipment was almost negligible during the second six months of the year. Container throughput measured in tons grew by 2.5%. Measured in TEUs, the standard unit for containers, the increase was 2.1% and the annual total was 14.8 million TEUs.

“Economic growth in the EU declined somewhat, particularly as a consequence of reduced industrial production in Germany,” the port authority said.

“Moreover, as a consequence of declining production and decreased growth in world trade, shipments from Asia were cancelled in November and December. The shortsea segment also experienced the effects of lower economic growth as well as competition with other ports.”

Total throughput of liquid bulk stood at 211.2 million tons in 2019 and was almost the same as in 2018. Within this segment, crude oil throughput exceeded 100 million tons for the fifth consecutive year and increased by 3.9%. Investments in recent years have expanded the production capacity of refineries either located in Rotterdam or connected to Rotterdam, leading to an increase in the amount of crude oil refined in 2019. Crude oil stocks have also grown in recent months.

The throughput of mineral oil products fell as a result of lower imports and exports of fuel oil. This downward trend over the past few years intensified in 2019 as a result of tightened global emission regulations for shipping that came into effect on January 1, 2020.

According to the Port of Rotterdam, the increase in LGN throughput was mainly due to the import of a greater proportion of the gas produced around the Atlantic ocean into Europe, instead of being exported to Asia. The increase in other liquid bulk is accounted for by the import and export of biofuels, particularly biodiesel.

What is more, dry bulk throughput decreased by 4% to 74.5 million tons in 2019 from 77.6 million tons in 2018.

In addition, RoRo transhipment increased slightly in 2019 despite the uncertainties surrounding Brexit. There were, however, significant fluctuations throughout the year, with throughput peaks as a result of stock build-up in the run-up to the proposed Brexit dates of March 31 and October 31.

Annual throughput of other breakbulk increased by 2.9% as a result of an increase in extra cargo packages. Nevertheless, a decline in throughput was observable in the fourth quarter as a consequence of flagging German exports, the port authority further said.

“The Port of Rotterdam has matched the transhipment volume recorded in 2018. Of course, we are working hard to further increase our leading position and are investing heavily to achieve this. However, the success of a modern port cannot be measured by throughput tonnage alone,” Allard Castelein, CEO of the Port of Rotterdam Authority, commented.

“Our customers no longer just want increased throughput capacity, but demand a better, faster and, above all, smarter port. Equally crucial for the future is that industry succeeds in accelerating the energy transition so that the Port of Rotterdam can make a real impact towards achieving the Dutch climate objectives. To help make this happen we need a decisive and proactive government that works together with the business community,” he added.

The Port of Rotterdam Authority recorded a turnover of EUR 706.6 million (USD 765 million) in 2019, a decrease compared to EUR 707.2 million seen in 2018. On the income side, port dues showed a slight increase and lease returns fell slightly. The net result excluding taxes amounted to EUR 241 million in 2019, compared to EUR 254.1 million posted a year earlier.

Investments made by the Port of Rotterdam Authority in 2019 were at a high level. Gross investments including participations amounted to EUR 338.3 million, compared to EUR 408.1 million in 2018. Major investment projects included the construction of the Container Exchange Route (CER) on Maasvlakte, the rerouting of part of the Port Rail line via the Theemsweg route, and the construction of new quay walls for the Hartel Tank Terminal.