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 Why are maritime freight rates rising in 2024? 

Maritime transport is essential for international trade, moving around 80% of the goods traded globally. In recent months, maritime freight rates have experienced a notable increase, reaching levels not seen in the past 30 months. This surge, exceeding 20% on some routes, is significantly affecting businesses and consumers. Understanding the causes of this phenomenon and its implications is crucial for preparing and adapting to a constantly changing commercial environment. 


Factors Driving the Rise in Maritime Freight Rates in 2024 


Increase in Demand  

The growth of e-commerce, economic recovery, and inventory replenishment have been key factors in the increased demand for maritime transport. Derived from the peak season, CNBC interviewed a group of traders; the survey reveals that advance cargo orders for this year's peak season show a modest increase in orders but no significant rise in consumer spending. Trade is influenced by various factors, including geopolitical uncertainties and weather conditions. 

As economies recover from the pandemic's impacts, companies are increasing their inventories to avoid future disruptions, driving the need for maritime transport. Specific trade routes, such as those from Asia to Europe and North America, have seen particularly high demand. 

Freight rates for routes from Asia to Northern Europe have increased by 42% since late April, more than tripling compared to the same period last year. Rates from Asia to the Mediterranean have also risen by 34% since late April, a 150% year-on-year increase. 

Rates for Asia-India routes have seen an average increase of 30% to 50% in the last three months, according to data analysis by the Journal of Commerce. This includes ports in India and Chinese ports such as Shanghai, Tianjin, Yantian, Ningbo, and Nansha. Rates have also increased for shipments from other Far Eastern hubs to India. The analysis shows that quotes from shipping lines from Hong Kong to Nhava Sheva/Mundra have increased by approximately 45% since late March. 


Supply Chain Bottleneck  

Port congestion and equipment shortages have severely impacted the availability of vessels and the flow of goods. The COVID-19 pandemic, geopolitical disruptions like the Red Sea crisis, and changes in routes have led to unplanned storage of goods and a lack of labor, intensifying these problems. Congestion at major ports such as Los Angeles and Shanghai has caused significant delays, increasing transportation costs. In key Asian ports, current congestion ranges from 2 to 7 days, with Shanghai, Singapore, and Port Klang seeing extended wait times. The average wait time for export containers in Shanghai has reached 4.1 days, the highest in nearly three years. 


Inflationary Pressures  

Rising operational costs, such as fuel, maintenance, and wages, have pressured maritime carriers to increase freight rates. Fuel prices have risen significantly, and labor costs have also increased due to worker shortages in the industry. Maritime carriers have passed these additional costs on to end consumers, contributing to the overall rise in rates. 


Geopolitical and Disruptive Events  

Geopolitical events, such as the war in Ukraine and sanctions on Russia since 2022, have altered the movement of goods. The conflict in the Red Sea since late 2023 and early 2024 has caused route changes and is a primary cause of blank sailings. These disruptions have altered routes and increased costs due to deviations and insecurity. Additionally, natural disasters and weather events, like the drought in the Panama Canal, have caused supply chain disruptions, further increasing rates. 


Future Outlook for Maritime Freight Rates  

Elevated Rates in the Short and Medium Term  

Freight rates are expected to remain high in the short and medium term. Factors such as sustained demand, port congestion, and high operational costs will continue to influence prices. However, the implementation of new port infrastructures and improvements in logistical efficiency could help moderate rates in the future. 


Preparation for Businesses and Consumers  

Businesses can implement various strategies to mitigate the impact of rising transportation costs, such as optimizing supply chains and diversifying suppliers. Alternatives to maritime transport, such as air or rail transport, can also be considered to reduce dependence on this mode of transport. 


Peak Season 2024: New Increases on the Horizon?  

Expectations for the 2024 Peak Season 

The 2024 peak season is expected to present a high volume of cargo and strong demand for maritime freight. Factors such as inventory accumulation for holidays and special events could exacerbate bottlenecks and congestion. 


Recommendations for Businesses  

To navigate the 2024 peak season, businesses should book space on vessels in advance and secure shipments with sufficient time. Flexibility in transport routes and delivery times can help avoid delays and additional costs. Effective negotiation strategies can also help secure better maritime freight rates during this period. 

The rise in maritime freight rates during 2024 reflects a confluence of complex factors, including increased demand, supply chain bottlenecks, inflationary pressures, and geopolitical events. Understanding these factors and preparing adequately can help businesses and consumers mitigate negative impacts and adapt to changing market conditions. 



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