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Indian container trade shows early signs of slowing after strong rebound

An analysis of the latest port data suggests that a slowdown in Indian containerised trade growth is likely, after volume levels across major ports saw strong sequential increases over the past one-and-a-half years.

Combined throughput handled by the country’s 12 major government ports took a slight hit in February – to 913,000 TEU from 928,000 TEU a year earlier. While that may not appear significant and cannot be conclusively seen as the beginning of a trend, it’s the first time in recent months that volumes decreased on a year-over-year basis. And that contraction came despite the anticipated frenzied cargo activity seen towards the end of the fiscal year.

It is important to mention that the Indian fiscal year runs from April to March.

The declines were more evident at the ports of Chennai, Cochin, V.O. Chidambaranar (Tuticorin) and Kolkata, which saw February volumes slide to 132,000 TEU from 137,000 TEU, 58,000 TEU from 71,000 TEU, 60,000 TEU from 73,000 TEU, and 55,000 TEU from 57,000 TEU, respectively.

Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (Nhava Sheva) – the busiest handler among major ports -- ended last month with 469,000 TEU, a marginal gain from 462,000 TEU in February 2021. However, it should be noted that the number of container ship calls handled by JNPT hit 171 last month, up from 157 calls in February 2021.

However, Indian major ports are on track to finish the fiscal year 2021-22 on an all-time high note, as combined volumes between April and February already surpassed the 10 million-TEU mark, versus 8.5 million TEU in the year-ago period.

The lifting of Covid restrictions in a phased manner had released significant pent-up demand from global importers, aiding Indian exports to grow at a high rate. The consequent wild demand swings have played havoc with supply chains, leading to an acute shortage of containers and vessel capacity.

While the Indian export-import community remains upbeat about sustained growth prospects, the Russia-Ukraine crisis has somewhat dampened the long-term outlook. Indian exports in February soared 22.36% to US$ 33.81 billion in value terms, according to the latest data.

“The enthusiasm with which the exim community has impressively performed has not only given a boost to the sector, but has also helped the economy’s growth recovery process,” the Federation of Indian Export Organisations (FIEO) said in a statement. “With monthly exports crossing the US$30 billion-mark for the 11th consecutive time during the fiscal, we are on course to cross the US$400 billion exports target for the fiscal.”

Jenny Daniel
India correspondent

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