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Shanghai overtakes Singapore as world’s busiest container port

South China Morning Post — 18 June, 2010

China’s emergence as a global shipping power has seen Shanghai consolidate its position as the world’s busiest container port ahead of Singapore, while Shenzhen looks set to overtake Hong Kong as the third busiest in a matter of months.

Shanghai, which regained the lead as the world’s busiest container port in April, saw container throughput rise 22.6 per cent last month to 2.56 million 20-foot boxes, while Singapore handled 2.42 million, an increase of 15.2 per cent.

Shanghai’s container throughput first overtook Singapore in September last year and since then the lead has see-sawed between the two, with Singapore the busier in the first three months of the year.

Shanghai came out top again in April with throughput rising 21 per cent to 2.37 million 20-foot boxes, just ahead of Singapore’s 2.32 million, according to figures from the Shanghai International Port Group and the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore.

“Shanghai’s volume in May was indeed very strong. It was not purely driven by the low base last year [due to the financial crisis],” said JP Morgan analyst Karen Li.

“According to Shanghai port management, the current pace of recovery should continue. So far, there is no impact on Chinese ports from the potential slowdown in the euro zone,” she said.

“The container and cargo throughput of Chinese ports will continue to do very well at double-digit growth for the rest of this year. Even with the pay rises in Chinese factories, I don’t see any change for the next six to nine months,” Willy Lin Sun-mo, chairman of the Hong Kong Shippers’ Council, said.

Over 90 per cent of Singapore’s throughput is transshipment, while Shanghai’s cargo shipments are driven by exports from manufacturing in its backyard, the Yangtze River Delta, Li said. “When the recovery came, the demand was for products Shanghai was strong at – electronics and textiles. The cargo is at its doorstep, so it’s easier for Shanghai to get the products. That’s why the growth is stronger in China than other Asian countries.”

Hong Kong port’s container throughput rose 15.2 per cent to 2.03 million 20-foot boxes in May, according to the Hong Kong Port Development Council, while Shenzhen’s container throughput grew twice as fast at 31.5 per cent to 1.94 million boxes, to close in on Hong Kong’s volumes, according to Shenzhen government figures.

“In the last few years, Hong Kong has been losing market share to mainland ports including Shenzhen and Guangzhou. This will continue as Hong Kong’s port charges are high,” Li said.

One reason the Hong Kong port still handles a substantial amount of cargo is its greater efficiency compared to mainland ports, but the efficiency of Shenzhen’s Yantian port now almost matches Hong Kong, Li added.

The trend of ports in Guangdong province gaining market share from Hong Kong will be gradual, because the ports of Shenzhen and Hong Kong share the same investors, namely Hutchison (SEHK: 0013) Port Holdings, China Merchants and Cosco Pacific (SEHK: 1199), who will manage the competition between them, she said.

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