Kiel Trade Indicator 05/22: Container ship congestion reaches the North Sea

The latest Kiel Trade Indicator data update for May shows a slight drop of 1 percent in global trade compared with the previous month (price and seasonally adjusted). The indicator values for Germany are also weak, with exports in the red (-1.2 percent) and imports in the green (+1.6 percent). The picture for the EU (exports: -1 percent; imports: +0.4 percent) and the USA (exports: -1.3 percent; imports: +1.8 percent) is similarly ambiguous. China stands out positively among the major economies in May, although this may also be due to the weak April. In comparison, exports are likely to have risen slightly (+2.1 percent) and imports even significantly (+7 percent).  

"Overall, May trade is rather restrained and continues the sideways movement of recent months. However, international trade is again suffering more from the congestion and delays in container shipping, which have now also reached the North Sea," says Vincent Stamer, Head of Kiel Trade Indicator. 

For the first time since the outbreak of the pandemic, container ships are also jammed in the North Sea off the ports of Germany, Holland, and Belgium. Here, just under 2 percent of global cargo capacity is currently stuck and can neither be loaded nor unloaded. In the German Bight, about a dozen large container ships with a total capacity of about 150,000 standard containers are waiting to call at Hamburg or Bremerhaven. Off the ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp, the situation is even more dramatic. In contrast, the container ship congestion off Los Angeles, i.e. off southern California, has receded entirely. 

Congestion near Shanghai and the neighboring Zheijang province currently ties up more than 3 percent of global cargo. However, more ships were able to leave the port of Shanghai, which was affected by the lockdown. In the second half of May, departures were at a comparable level to China's other ports. At present, however, they are again around 15 percent lower. To date, exports worth up to 700 million euros from China to Germany have been lost due to the lockdown in Shanghai.  

"However, the fact that Shanghai exports have risen again in recent weeks despite lockdown measures also shows that companies there are on the starting blocks and will probably be able to ramp up production again quickly if the lockdown ends," Stamer says. 

Overall, more than 11 percent of all goods shipped worldwide are currently stuck in traffic jams. In the Red Sea—the most important maritime trade route between Asia and Europe—the gap between expected and actually shipped cargo volumes has grown to around 16 percent, having almost closed in February. 

The next Kiel Trade Indicator updates will be on June 21 (without media information) and July 6 (with media information for June 2022 trade data). 

For more information on the Kiel Trade Indicator and forecasts for 75 countries and regions, visit  

About the Kiel Trade Indicator 

The Kiel Trade Indicator estimates trade flows (imports and exports) of 75 countries and regions worldwide, the EU and world trade as a whole. Specifically, the estimates cover over 50 individual countries as well as regions such as the EU, sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, the Middle East or emerging Asia. It is based on the evaluation of ship movement data in real time. An algorithm programmed at the Kiel Institute uses artificial intelligence to analyze the data and translates the ship movements into real, seasonally adjusted growth figures compared with the previous month.

We update the data twice a month. Around the 20th (without press release) for the current and the following month and around the 5th (with press release) for the previous and the current month.

Arriving and departing ships are recorded for 500 ports worldwide. In addition, ship movements in 100 maritime regions are analyzed and the effective utilization of container ships is derived from draught information. Country-port correlations can be used to generate forecasts, even for countries without their own deep-sea ports.  

Compared to previous leading trade indicators, the Kiel Trade Indicator is available much earlier, is much more comprehensive, relies on a uniquely large database using big data, and has a low statistical error by comparison. The algorithm of the Kiel Trade Indicator uses machine learning, so that the quality of the forecast continues to improve over time.