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“Too many new boats for increasingly scarce cargo. Shipping companies operate with larger vessels to save without generating enough cargo to fill them, ”says the journalist. This growing imbalance causes prices to collapse and threatens the sustainability of maritime freight transport, on which 80% of world trade depends.
The volume of this trade was not growing at such a low rate and a sustained decline is expected. The slowdown in the Chinese economy explains much of the stagnation in maritime trade. In addition, the Asian giant is increasingly dependent on trade and domestic consumption, with a decreasing dependence on international trade.
It will be increasingly difficult to fill ships because, even with the slowdown in maritime trade, the ships that have been manufactured in recent years have increased in size “to save costs”, although with counterproductive results. Faced with this panorama, it loses its meaning for such monsters to sail the seas, with what entails in maintenance costs, in a high consumption of fuel and operation of the ships. And pollution.
With this reality, it is worth questioning not only the unlimited growth of trade, but also the trade model that allowed paying less for a fruit that came from thousands of kilometers away than for one that is grown a few kilometers away.
There have been great advances in refrigeration and storage techniques, but tons of perishable goods are still thrown away when they reach their destination. In addition, some conservation techniques pollute or depend on a large consumption of other resources. What is the point of filling a ship that travels leagues to carry cargo that will end up in containers, when in addition the local population can resort to closer products?
Proposals to consume local products cannot be neglected when possible. Pollution and waste are reduced, local production is favored, and agriculture is more sustainable and less aggressive with the land. The need to cut down forests to grow products such as avocado is reduced. Greenpeace denounces the clearing of forests on the Purépecha plateau, in Michoacán, on which 65% of Mexico's avocado production depends.
Every year between 600 and 1,000 hectares of forest are lost due to this production, according to the National Institute of Forestry, Agricultural and Livestock Research (INIFAP). The Michoacán Department of Urban Planning and Environment estimates that illegal avocado crops occupy some 20,000 hectares. 85% of Mexican avocados end up in the United States and, despite Donald Trump's protectionist discourse, a ban on guacamole or a significant reduction in its consumption does not seem likely.
Trade on a smaller scale to consume local products would also help reduce tensions and conflicts; people would no longer be expelled from their lands, illegal logging would lose steam and certain mafias that commit human rights violations with the consent of some governments would disappear.
You cannot proclaim a free market economy and then expect governments to indefinitely support freight transport at a loss due to the difficulties the sector is facing, as is often the case.
This support from governments occurs in the shareholders of the Shipowners' companies or through the granting of public aid or credit lines. The Taiwanese government has just bailed out its shipping giants with almost 1.8 billion to prevent their collapse.
The protection of workers who lose their source of income is understood, but in the end what is sold is produced and what is produced is sold. In the long term, sustainable trade models will have to be put in place, adapted to reality: a world in recession with major environmental problems and international tensions.
By Carlos Miguélez Monroy