US tank truck carriers benefitted over the past year from strong overseas demand for chemicals and other liquid and dry bulk cargoes. However, the latest global freight data collected by the International Transport Forum suggests a slowdown in international trade as the global economic recovery loses momentum.
Freight volumes indicate a marked macroeconomic slowdown. External trade by sea in the European Union-27 and the United States is likely to fall below pre-crisis levels (-3% and -4%). The risks of dependence on Asia-led global growth are being exposed. Both US and EU-27 exports by sea to Asia have declined since February 2011, measured in tonnes of goods moved. Further slow growth in inland freight transport volumes continues to contribute to the sense of weak recovery in domestic demand.
The overall picture for global freight is one of growth slowing down. Total external trade by sea (in tonnes) declined through the second quarter in the United States, while in the EU trade stagnated (USA -4% compared to pre-crisis levels; EU27 -3%) according to preliminary estimates of tonnes of goods carried.
Recovery in the EU-27 and the USA has so far been led mainly by exports to Asia. However, the positive trend observed in previous reports from the International Transport Forum has reversed and tonnes exported by sea from the Unites States and the EU-27 to Asia declined in Q2 (Figures 2-3). Trade with China and ASEAN countries in particular shows evidence of an economic slowdown. Both sea and air exports from the USA to China declined between February 2011 and June 2011. EU-27 exports to China grew in Q2 but have been fairly flat for the first half of 2011 as a whole. Total trade with ASEAN countries by air and sea has declined for both regions. Only trade with India seems to have resisted otherwise downward trend.
Inland transport by rail and road continue to recover very slowly. In the EU area, volumes are still 9% and 13% respectively below pre-crisis levels, when measured in seasonally adjusted tonne-kilometers. The stronger growth trend in rail freight in the United States and Russia has also slowed down with volumes now 16% and 7% below 2008 peak levels.