Maritime transportation is the predominant mode of transport of global trade, as it handles over 80 percent of its volume and, most importantly, it accounts for over 70 percent of its value (UNCTAD, 2012, p. 44).
Due to the importance of maritime transportation UNCTAD has published annually, since 1968, The Review of Maritime Transportation, a publication in which they provide statistics and analyze the structure, changes, trends and challenges of international seaborne trade.
Although merchandise trade, either by containers or in bulk, composes most of the volume and value of maritime transportation, the provision of services related to international seaborne trade is also of relevance. The activities within the services sector related to the transport industry include: ship building, ship registration, ship operation, ship recycling, ship financing, classification and insurance.
Most of the services used in the transport industry have been traditionally provided by developed economies, however the current trend is that both developed and developing economies are specializing in few of the activities within the services sector, particularly those developing economies that have managed to increase their competitiveness in the maritime sectors. For example, Bangladesh has focused on providing the recycling of ships and has been quite successful at it.
UNCTAD has proposed that developing countries have a great potential for becoming important participants in the services market, however they also clarify that that incorporation in the market depends on several factors, like political and geographical circumstances. Also, developing countries face two main challenges to enter the services sector: the concentration of the market and the country’s level of economic development.
As mentioned previously, the trend is that countries specialize in few activities of transport services, and some of those activities are highly concentrated in a handful of countries. For example in construction, recycling and insurance of ships only four countries represent over 90 percent of the market. Activities such as financing and insurance require a high level of economic development.
UNCTAD suggest that if a developing country wants to incorporate itself in the maritime transportation services sector and it doesn’t have the adequate conditions to overcome the two challenges mentioned previously, it should focus on the activities that are less concentrated and require a lower economic development level, such as ship registration or seafarer or officers supply.
UNCTAD (2012). World Economic Situation and Perspectives Report. p. 41-66.
UNCTAD (2011). Review of Maritime Transport.