While for some it seems surreal to be talking about trade wars in the era of globalization of trade, it seems that we have drawn into such discussions, whether we like it or not. For shipping, one of the main industries which have both contributed and of course benefited from the global trade growth, the aftermath of an escalation in trade disputes could be dire for a number of shipping sectors.
In its latest weekly report, shipbroker Allied Shipbroking said that “it has been a chilling start to the week for the global economy, with the vast majority of stock exchanges noting a fair drop, after a series of sell offs in the technology sector. At the face of it, it may well sound as if this is something restricted to an industry which is disconnected in its most part from the shipping industry. However, in part these tremors being noted in the form of price drops in equities are tied in part to the overall friction being seen in global trade”.
According to Allied’s Head of Research & Valuations, Mr. George Lazaridis, “it has been just over two weeks since US President Donald Trump announced import tariffs on steel and aluminum, and the geopolitical aftershocks are still being felt. The period just after the announcement seems to be mainly characterized by a number of countries, including but not limited to Australia, the European Union and Japan, pushing to win exemptions from these newly announced tariffs. Yet, things seem to be taking a darker tone now, with a number of these countries now vowing to act through reprisal levies and tariffs on US imports”.
“As an overall read-through, the main note that most of us in shipping have taken is that these current tariffs have a limited direct effect on shipping markets. China, which is the leading producer of both these commodities has a minute share in the overall imports entering the US, despite the fact that the US President has focused on China in his usual populist rhetoric with regards to trade.
China’s exports of steel and aluminum to the US amount to only just 0.03% of its GDP, while it only makes up around 4% of total steel imports into the US. The biggest threat has been to the US market’s main suppliers, which are the European Union, Canada, S. Korea, Mexico, Brazil and Japan, with Canada and Mexico having for the moment escaped the current levies as part of the ongoing negotiations with regards to the NAFTA trade agreement”, said Lazaridis.
He added that “the majority of the rest seem to be taking the option of retaliatory levies quite seriously, while despite China being relatively unaffected for the time being, they have also joined in the general discussion proactively, possibly taking this opportunity to proclaim themselves as defenders of free trade. The risk of a wider trade war sparking off does lay in the realm of possibility right now, yet even if things were to escalate to such a level, the negative effects on shipping would most likely come in the form of gradual waves. Under such a scenario we would likely see most retaliatory tariffs and levies being placed on finished final goods, possibly causing a disturbance on the containership market first and limited to mainly this sector in the initial phase”.
According to Allied’s analyst, “it would take a while before we would see a gradual slump emerge on the demand for raw materials, as the overall slump in global demand for finished products would slowly push purchasing managers to cut back their requirements. This all sounds like a dire scenario indeed and most would be in angst as to the actual probability of such a series of events pulling through, especially given that we have only just started to see a favorable environment emerge in terms of global trade.
The general thought and hope for the time being is that to some degree the US President will back down having been brought to his senses in a similar fashion to how back in the early 2000’s George W Bush eventually backed down on his protectionist steel-tariff plan. Lets hope things aren’t taken too far too quickly and we miss the point of no return”, Lazaridis concluded.
Nikos Roussanoglou, Hellenic Shipping News Worldwide