Maersk Line is forecasting double-digit growth for its Asian shipments of palm oil, sugar and rice to Africa this year as demand for food commodities surges in frontier markets, an executive said on Friday.
"Africa is very, very strong, especially for commodities,” Thomas Knudsen, the head of Maersk Line's Asia operations, told Reuters on the sidelines of an industry conference in Singapore. “We are seeing generally more cargoes moving on containers pretty much everywhere in Africa -- East Africa, South Africa and West Africa."
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Busier sea traffic to Africa has helped offset slower business on other trade routes, such as the benchmark Asia to Europe lines, that have come under pressure from a glut of capacity and slower economic growth in the West.
Maersk, France's CMA CGM, NYK Line, and other top shipping companies introduced either new African-bound trade routes or added ships to already established lines this year to take advantage of growth in the region.
In China, Maersk's operations remained strong with no signs of softening freight demand despite Beijing's campaign to tighten credit availability.
"In terms of overall growth, we are not seeing any immediate signs of a slowdown (in China)," Knudsen said.
"What we have seen is business migrating from the southern part of China towards the east and north, so perhaps a little bit of change in sourcing patterns."
For Japan, container imports from Thailand and other Asian countries that supply industrial materials and parts to Japanese companies were starting to return to pre-earthquake levels, Knudsen said.
Maersk has forecast total shipping demand this year will grow by 6 and 8 percent, slowing from a 11 percent jump in 2010.