Major Chinese ports are hopeful that rising domestic trade volumes would help them counter the continuous contractions in cargo throughput for overseas markets.
Most of the ports are adding more domestic shipping lines and expanding the local network to cash in on the 4-trillion-yuan economic stimulus package rolled out by the Chinese government to boost local consumption.
Shenzhen Yantian port, the country's second largest port by container throughput, is increasingly looking at domestic business as the global economic recession is eroding into China's foreign trade.
"This year is the most difficult one for us and we have been continuously taking measures to stimulate cargo throughput for domestic market," Sun Junmin, public relations director, Shenzhen Yantian Port Group, told China Daily.
The port has added some domestic shipping lines, although not many, and it is also planning to expand into the bulk cargo sector for the domestic market.
Yantian port is not alone. Ningbo port, China's fourth largest, said it has established a domestic business development team late last year to cash in on the anticipated growth in container throughput for the domestic market.
Tianjin port, China's third largest port by cargo throughput whose domestic and overseas turnover contributes equally to its business, has also been taking efforts to develop domestic business.
It recently partnered with COSCO Group and China Shipping to open shipping lines directly to Shanghai and Guangzhou. Yu Rumin, chairman of Tianjin Port Group, predicted in March that the domestic shipping business is expected to grow in April.
Yu's forecast proves to be right when the Ministry of Transport recently released the Chinese port report for April, indicating that the cargo throughput by volume for the domestic market handled by China's major ports saw an increase on a yearly basis after two consecutive monthly drops since February. It surged by 0.1 percent year-on-year to 240 million tons.
Comparatively, the cargo throughput for the overseas market dropped by 6 percent year-on-year to 160 million tons, the sixth monthly decline since last November.
The downtrend in the overseas business is expected to continue for some more months due to the sluggish Chinese foreign trade, said analysts.
Chinese foreign trade has been dwindling since last November and in April, exports and imports dropped 22.6 and 23 percent year-on-year respectively, according to Beijing-based analyst, who asked not be named. The official data is expected to be released soon.
The ports' timely response to the changes in the shipping industry has indeed helped them weather the crisis. In April, the cargo and container throughput handled by Tianjin port surged 2.02 and 5.3 percent respectively year-on-year, largely due to the growth in domestic business, which respectively grew by 14.4, and 42.1 percent from a year earlier.
Many Chinese ports whose business is mainly driven by the domestic market have also been less impacted by the crisis.
Li Pin, public relations director, Guangzhou port, China's fifth largest port by container throughput, told China Daily that the port did not feel much impact from the financial crisis as it has been focusing on domestic business.
(China Daily May 12, 2009)