January 26th is Australia Day, a chance to celebrate all things Australian: vegemite, sporting prowess, BBQs, surfing, unusual (and frequently lethal) wildlife, digeridoos, Uluru, Kylie, Mad Max and so on. But from a shipping and seaborne trade perspective, perhaps the most relevant features of Australia are literally from the land ‘down under’, namely iron ore, coal and natural gas.

Wizard Of Oz

Australia is, for the most part, sun-blasted ‘outback’: a vast area (about 5% of the world’s land mass) inhabited by less than 0.4% of the world’s population. And yet it accounts for about 20% of global seaborne exports of major wet and dry bulk cargo, and its 1.3bn tonnes of iron ore, coal and LNG exports alone account for 11% of the world’s total seaborne trade. In fact, in 2017 Australia accounted for nearly 60% of all seaborne iron ore exports, a third of seaborne coal exports (second only to Indonesia) and 20% of LNG exports (outdone only by Qatar) – impressive!

Australia has achieved this position following over a decade of rapid export growth. For example, from 2001 to 2017 (i.e. since China joined the WTO), Australia’s iron ore exports grew with a robust CAGR of 11%, rising from 160mt to 830mt and accounting for 65% of the increase in global seaborne iron ore trade over this period. Wizard of Oz indeed.

Australia exports to a range of countries, though most cargoes go to Asian importers, and to China in particular. China’s voracious industrial appetite consumed more than 80% of Australian iron ore exports in 2017 (Japan came in a distant second at 8%), equating to more than 100% of Australia’s net growth in iron ore exports since 2001. On a tonne-mile basis, this is perhaps not an unalloyed plus for shipping: at 11,000km, the distance between Tubarao (in ore exporting Brazil) and Qingdao is thrice that from Dampier. On the other hand, looking at coal, it is around 1,800km from Samarinda (Indonesia) to South China, about half of the distance from Queensland to China. Furthermore, with its massive and relatively high grade natural resource base and proximity to China, Australia has arguably played a facilitating role in China’s economic rise and the increased demand for ship tonnage that has followed.

Can’t Get You Out Of My Head
Nor is that it for Australia and the process of globalisation. For example, growth in Australia’s LNG exports in recent years is one factor helping to knit together a global natural gas market out of still regionalised trading patterns. Although slippage risk at onshore and offshore gas projects such as Prelude FLNG needs to be borne in mind, Australian LNG exports are projected to grow to over 70mt in 2018, close behind Qatar’s steady 80mt.

So then, Australian exports of iron ore, coal and gas have grown at a truly impressive pace in recent decades. And with demand for the country’s fairly high quality resources holding up well, it seems that Australia is likely to remain a significant feature of the global seaborne trade network as it continues to develop. All the more reason for shipping folk to love Australia. Have a g’day.

Source: Hellenic Shipping News.