It is impossible to simplify the logistics of international trade. However, one can read about general characteristics of transport and logistics as a whole. This article will be devoted to such an analysis of cargo transportation on the territory of the European Union in total during January-March 2017.

The volume of transported goods between countries within the EU grew by 7% (compared with 2016).

In terms of weight, it is slightly more than 5 million tons per month.

Commercial shipping accounts for 40% or around 2.3 million tons per month; inland waterway shipping – 24%; trains account for 14% or 860 thousand tons per month; trucks account for 37%, that’s 3 million tons per month, and aviation also accounts for 3%.

Analysis of the situation for each type of transportation is provided in more detail below.

As shown by information from Eurostat, the volume of transported goods through commercial shipping within Europe reached 2.3 million tons per month in 2017. In other words, it was about 50 thousand containers with a total weight of 57 thousand tons. The main trade routes connecting Europe are: European coast-North America; European coast-Far East (through Suez Canal); European coast-Southeast Asia and Oceania (this direction includes Australia). Below we will consider an analysis of this transport from all points of view to understand details related to its use. To do so, let’s divide the analysis into several components: capacity, costs and time.

1. The volume of trade, the current state and prospects for development:

The volume of international maritime trade has been steadily increasing from early 2000s. In 2015, it was 4 million tons per month; in 2016 – 2.9 million tons (a fall). However, this time the growth trend resumed with a new speed and hit 3 million tons per month as soon as in January 2017 (90 thousand containers or 97 thousand tons) . It can be assumed that it is associated not only with a transit crisis at the Turkish port of Izmir but also with an increase in macroeconomic activity in Asia-Pacific countries (China’s growth rate exceeded 6% during March 2017) , where by 40%, or 860 thousand tons of European exports go. Given the fact that world policy is aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions, the shift of goods from water tankers to commercial shipping also has its justification.

2. Costs and profitability:

The average cost of commercial maritime transportation in 2016 was $2 thousand per ton-mile (the lowest rate since 2009) . The difference between two main players is about 5%, which does not affect the situation much – €1378 vs €1256 per ton-mile by Maersk Line and MSC respectively in 2014 [1] . However, there are some nuances, related to the route: Scandinavian crossing (between St Petersburg and Umeå) costs €51 per ton; Volga-Baltic shipping is more expensive at €105 per ton; the most expensive route is from St Petersburg to the ports of the southern and eastern terminals (€198).

A small part of this cost consists of extra fees. In 2016, they were €122 per container or €494 million in total. Naturally, their share is insignificant compared with total operating income of shipping companies – just 1% [2] . Thus, we can say that rates are quite favorable for transportation within Europe and do not entail additional expenses.

3. Time:

There’s no doubt that time factor is the key competitive advantage over air transport for cargo already delivered to a seaport by inland waterway or train. However, it’s often forgotten during competition between road and rail transit modes.

According to the current schedule, transit time from St Petersburg to Hamburg via rail is around 24 days; delivery of goods by truck with 20-24 days [3] .

In comparison, we will use a longer route – from St Petersburg to Hamburg via commercial shipping: 38-45 days. In this case, lorries will be quicker: for example, in terms of cost and time (€ 961 vs €1 160 per ton-mile) as opposed to railway (€ 1236 vs €1576 per ton mile for train); and against inland waterway transport (€5216 vs €5 281 per ton-mile). It should be noted that despite the fact that economic rates are the most important criterion for choosing a transport route, factors such as terms of contract fulfillment may be decisive in choosing a transportation mean for some companies.

4. Forecast:

At the end of the 1960s, it was predicted that within two decades commercial shipping would reach its maximum volume and to date there have been no tangible reasons to change this forecast. The world’s fleet is constantly modified by new vessels due to rather high construction costs (from $50 thousand per TEU [4] up to $150 thousand per FEU [5] ). Even if we only consider oil tankers with deadweight tonnage exceeding 1 million m 3, we could see an increase from 33 thousand in 1995 to 47 thousand in 2015 and to 49 thousand in 2020 (according to the report of the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers [6] ).

In most cases, companies prefer to complement their own fleet with new ships instead of buying vessels. The reason for this is that even if investment costs are lower than those related to leasing, a long-term relationship (which usually begins after many years have passed) might be established between the shipowner and vessel operator. As you can see in Fig. 2 , shipping throughout history reflects only growth trends without any recession since 1974 . However, it should be also noted that the industry has already had periods of decline: during 1975-1976, 1996-1999 and 2000-2003. However, shipping rates still increased despite this fall in demand (down 3% per year on average).

Based on these facts, we advise you not only to keep track of actual situation but also consider making your own forecasts in order to be ready for further developments.