If the largest ships are to retain their potential to enhance the economic success of the operators, and be an enabler of aggregate global trade growth, it will require the unlikely – a continuation of a polarisation of the shares of global merchandise trade moving directly from the producing East to the consuming West.
In a less extremely polarised world, ships once called at many ports between, & within the east and the west, when undertaking a trade sailing loop. Today, the largest container ships routinely each call in only a few major hub ports in the total loop.
The largest container ships sailing today cannot practically be tasked to enter a trade that requires them to call at many ports. The economic cost of lost revenue (due to extended time-in-port), and the practical loading/planning issues arising from it, prohibit it.
To both eastern and western government forecasters, the current level of polarity in geographic merchandise production sourcing on the one hand, and consumer markets on the other, is also assessed as unlikely to continue. We do not have to read one report, or even a hundred, to see that this is the case. We can get the sense of change by simply acknowledging that there is a heated political contest for future Eurasian & African landmass markets & resources.
Further discussion on the geopolitical side we can leave for others, but we do note that in the Eurasian theatre we saw western analysts come up with a label called the “String of Pearls”.
This label purportedly represents a Chinese naval sea lane security strategy which requires them to develop port based facilities for their navy along their resource supply routes through Asia/Indo-China from the Middle East and Africa. We note, that from a western military perspective, this is their anticipated logical Eastern response to the shipping interdiction operations that presaged the major conflict in the Pacific theatre in WWII. Looking further back in time to the nature of commerce along and through the Silk Road, however, gives the rub to the alternate development strategy aspiration.
But when we look at the Chinese public statements in respect of the Eurasian continent & Indo-China geopolitical developments, we usually see a “market growth” press-leader, and the accompanying historical reference to the Silk Road Trades.
There is no reason for us to question the merits of either side's view of the developments. Neither is there reason to deny that, given that world powers will decide upon co-existence, that significant new and more diverse trades are emerging as- we-speak as a result of these strategies.
It is the Silk Road, the Maritime Silk Road, and several Eurasian rail network developments that we hear President Xi and other officials elucidating on under their contemporary "Belt and Road" label during their travels.
Chinese analysts have even raised the prospect of the world’s longest railway tunnel being constructed to link Tibet to India by tunneling under the Himalayas. On the economic developmental side we note the coalescence with the stated objectives of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation) and the stated investment objectives of the AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank).
In a less polarised world, one with a plethora of consumer market opportunities and a spread of production, the geographic polarity in today's consumer purchasing power will also likely erode.
Instead of a “String of Pearls”, we are likely to return to less concentrated trades, with handfuls of pearls woven into a fabric requiring more diverse logistic network solutions. Those trades today described as “feeder trades” by westerners reviewing Eurasian shipping (ie: those trades moving goods to hub ports for trade with the west), are already starting to take their place as significant individuals in the world economy.
The North-South trades are also likely to soon seek to increase their capacity to connect directly with these markets. The continuation of the extremely polarised world, and the relative purchasing power disparity conferred upon it by the financialisation process that made it happen, appears to be a highly unlikely prospect. Many western sovereign country investors, those that recently joined the AIIB as founding shareholders, seem to think so too.