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Port of Antwerp sees volume growth in Q1 despite coronavirus

Europe’s second-largest port, the Port of Antwerp, finished the first quarter of this year with a total freight volume growth of 4 per cent year over year, feeling only a limited impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

As explained, container volumes in particular made up for the decline in other freight categories such as conventional breakbulk and vehicles.

With an increase of 9.5 per cent  in TEU and 9.4 per cent in tonnage, the container trade remains by far the largest segment in the Port of Antwerp. 

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The vicissitudes of world trade since mid-2019 continue to weigh on the breakbulk volume. This has resulted in a total decline of 27.8 percent, with imports being hit harder than exports. The volume of iron and steel, the most important category in this segment, continued its negative trend with a contraction of 36.8 per cent. 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 per cent drop in the number of new cars on the other. The total roll-on/roll-off (RoRo) volume was down by 20.3 per cent.

The dry bulk volume at the end of the first quarter was slightly up, by 1.2 per cent and stood at 3.2 million tonnes. Liquid bulk for its part held steady, only slightly down by 0.7 per cent due mainly to slower economic growth and fluctuating oil prices.

During the first quarter of 2020, a total of 3,476 seagoing ships called at the Port of Antwerp, some 1.2 per cent fewer than the first quarter of 2019. Their combined gross tonnage fell by 3.4 per cent to 98 million tonnes. 

Coronavirus and port operations

According to the Port of Antwerp-19 COVID-19 Taskforce, the port continued to work uninterrupted over the past few weeks, being an essential link for the supply of Belgium and a large part of Europe. 

“Port of Antwerp remains 100 per cent operational despite the far-reaching social consequences of the corona pandemic,” Annick De Ridder, port alderman, noted.

“Freight handling and industrial production are continuing unabated, thanks to the efforts of the entire port community of employees and employers. All partners in the chain of production and supply are constantly monitoring the situation and making adjustments where necessary, thus enabling Port of Antwerp to react to the varying demand from the market.”

However, it is expected that the port will inevitably feel the effects of the pandemic. Although the impact of the crisis in Q1 remained fairly limited, it will become apparent in Q2 with cancelled departures, large sectors of industry such as the car industry in western Europe being shut down, and changing patterns of consumer behaviour, the port authority said.

At the moment, it is impossible to predict the final impact on the global economy and thus also the volume of freight passing through the Port of Antwerp. Much will depend on how quickly 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,” Jacques Vandermeiren, Port of Antwerp CEO, commented.

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