Antwerp warns container volume growth won’t last

Antwerp warns container volume growth won’t last

Antwerp handled 3.02 million TEU in the first quarter, with container trade the largest segment. Photo credit: Shutterstock.com.

The Port of Antwerp managed to grow its first quarter container volume by 9.5 percent despite the Europe-wide shutdown to slow the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) that marked the latter part of the quarter. 

However, in its quarterly operational update, Europe’s second-busiest port warned that the pandemic was causing disruption to production and supply chains around the world, and as an international hub, Antwerp would inevitably feel the effects.

“The impact of the crisis during the first quarter has remained fairly limited, but it will become apparent in the second quarter with canceled departures, large sectors of industry such as the car industry in Western Europe being shut down, and changing patterns of consumer behaviour,” Antwerp said in a statement Friday.

In the first three months of the year, Antwerp handled 3.02 million TEU, with container trade the largest segment. Volume from Asia declined 2.2 percent, but strong growth was reported from all other regions served by the port.

While COVID-19 had a limited effect on volume in the first quarter, it did influence the cargo mix. Antwerp noted there was “a noticeable increase” in the amount of pharmaceuticals and e-commerce goods, and an increasing demand for long-life foodstuffs. 

Future volumes depend on post-COVID-19 restart

Looking ahead, Antwerp said it was impossible to predict COVID-19’s impact on volume passing through the port, and much would depend on how quickly industry was able to restart, and when consumer confidence returned. 

How that recovery will play out is something the European Sea Ports Organization (ESPO) is concerned about, and the trade body called for the European Union to decide on a recovery strategy.

“In all European ports, it is now really all hands on deck to remain operational and to fulfil their critical and essential role in the supply chain,” Isabelle Ryckbost, ESPO secretary general, said in a statement Friday. “The contingency plans are working well. I can say that European ports remain fully operational.”

However, it is now important to prepare for what would come after the crisis, Ryckbost noted. 

“The port ecosystem is facing serious economic impacts, but ports have proven in the past to be resilient,” she said. “In order to catch up quickly once the health crisis is under control, and to play their role as engines of growth in Europe’s economic recovery, it is important that ports and the affected businesses in the port are supported when and where needed.”

Contact Greg Knowler at greg.knowler@ihsmarkit.com and follow him on Twitter: @greg_knowler.