The volatility of world trade since mid-2019 has impacted the port of Antwerp’s breakbulk volume in the first quarter of 2020, resulting in a total decline of 27.8 percent compared to the same period of last year.

According to the port, imports were hit harder than exports and the volume of iron and steel, the most important category in this segment, continued its negative trend with a contraction of 36.8 percent.

The shutdown in the car trade inflicted further blows to its breakbulk volumes, with reduced steel imports and an 18 percent drop in the number of new cars. The total ro-ro volume was down by 20.3 percent.

Meanwhile, container volume is still rising, making up for the decline in other freight categories. With a growth of 9.5 percent in teu, container trade is the largest segment in the port of Antwerp and contributed to a 4 percent year-on-year increase in total freight volume handled by the port in Q1 2020.

For the first quarter 2020, the port of Antwerp said that the impact of Covid-19 remained limited. However, as the pandemic disrupts supply chains around the world, the port added that it would inevitably feel the effects of crisis.

It expects these impacts to become apparent in the second quarter with cancelled departures; large sectors, such as the car industry in Western Europe, being shut down; and changing patterns of consumer behaviour.

At the moment, however, it is impossible to predict the final impact on the global economy and thus also the volume of freight passing through the port of Antwerp. Much will depend on how quickly industry is able to start up again and consumer confidence to return.