Playing with boxes
Last year saw essential changes in the structure of container flows to and from Russia. Imports plunged amid the growth of exports. Nevertheless, experts still hope for the development of transit potential while low containerization offers hope for future market growth.
Shifting to exports
As expected, economic crisis, ruble devaluation and international sanctions have had their impact on the pattern of demand for consumer goods. Russian people consume less imported goods as the industry and agriculture make advantage of national currency devaluation to build up domestic production.
According to market players, container imports in Russia lost 30% as compared with the pre-crisis period. Similar fall was registered during the crisis of 2008-2009.
At the same time, we see a fast growth of containerized exports of paper, plywood, ferroalloys, metal, fertilizers etc. Meanwhile, the dynamics of the export market in the North West region and Novorossiysk showed a 2-pct decline, year-on-year. As market players told IAA PortNews, this should be attributed to the deficit of empty containers. An essential factor here is the euro's devaluation against the dollar (20% within a short period) which boosted exports from the North Europe. Hence the growing demand for containers in the region. Unfortunately, Russian ports are in the end of the container ‘queue’. This situation entails imminent growth of export freight rates.
When it comes to further implications, they will mostly depend on geopolitical factors. Some analysts expect conciliation in Ukraine, others – new wave of confrontation which is to affect inevitably the economic situation in Russia. In case of a positive scenario with oil prices to reach $80 per barrel by quarters III-IV of 2015 and ruble to be traded at 50-55 against the dollar, the markets of the Baltic and Southern basins are likely to show a fall of dry cargo imports in 2015 by 30% against 2014, refrigerated cargo imports – by 20%, laden export containers – by 5-10%. The Far East of Russia is expected to have a better situation: fall of dry cargo imports - 15%, exports are forecasted to grow by some 10%.
It should be noted that new stevedoring projects (first of all, port Bronka in Saint-Petersburg) is supposed to attract additional container flows. Bronka will even be able to give an impetus to new transport corridors inside Russia. At TransRussia-2015, MMPK Bronka and Svijazhsk Interregional Multimodal Logistic Center (Svijazhsk IMLC, Tatarstan) came to an agreement to look into establishment of a new container route from Central Russia to Saint-Petersburg.
Looking for efficiency
Meanwhile, the development of transit container traffic is still among hopes in Russia. As Konstantin Kuzovkov, FESCO Vice President, Investments and Development, said at TransRussia-2015, the following measures should be undertaken to develop transit flows from the Far East to the European part of Russia: optimization of pricing in the sector of intermodal shipping, looking into delay of payment, development of electronic data interchange, debottlenecking of Transsib, development of terminal infrastructure and introduction of the practice with transit goods to be pre-declared at customs.
However, transit volumes at Transsib are not as low as they seem. They make 100,000 TEUs while the flow from the entire Far East to Saint-Petersburg is 400,000-500,000 TEUs per year. On the other hand, railway transit has lost its attractiveness as China reduces exports (down 12%, year-on-year) and freight rates are historically low today.
Speaking generally about the development of container logistics in Russia, market players emphasize the necessity to shift from motor to railway transport and to develop container depots and terminals with a working access to railways and general development of railway infrastructure. This would let change the role of Moscow as a distribution center and escape a paradox when goods can be easier transported by Novorossiysk-Moscow-Izhevsk route rather than by Novorossiysk-Izhevsk route.