Trade increases, congestion decreases

At the beginning of the year, the recovery in global trade is pickingup speed. The latest Kiel Trade Indicator data update signals a 2.1 percent increase in January compared with the previous month of December (price and seasonally adjusted).

As a result, the figures for Germany's foreign trade show a clear upward trend for both exports (+2.1 percent) and imports (+2.6 percent). The EU isbenefiting even more from the global momentum, with exports (+3.0 percent) and imports (+3.2 percent) up even higher.

For the U.S., the Kiel Trade Indicator values signal a somewhat more mixed picture in January compared to December, with exports up (+3.6 percent) and imports down (-1.4 percent). A sideways movement is emerging for China, with exports (+1.9 percent) in the green and imports (-1.1 percent) in the red.

For Russia, the indicator values show an increase in maritime trade and thus in exports (+2.2 percent) and imports (+1.1 percent).

"January brought big jumps in German and European foreign trade and thus a good start to the new year. Germany is obviously benefiting from high demand for German products abroad, which is also reflected in the industry's high order backlog," says Timo Hoffmann, project manager for the Kiel Trade Indicator. "China's trade, on the other hand, still has room to grow, with weak imports pointing to subdued demand at home."

Global shipping congestion at pre-crisis levels

The easing of congestion on the world's oceans fits into the positive trade picture. Only 8 percent of all goods shipped worldwide are currently stuck, compared with almost 14 percent at the height of the supply bottlenecks.

"This is the first time since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and since the container ship network has been out of sync that ship congestion has returned to a level that was reached before the pandemic and that does not have to be classified as a disruption," Hoffmann said.

Fewer goods shipped by sea

The main reason for the decline in congestion is likely to be the fact that globally fewer goods are being traded by sea. The volume of standard containers shipped worldwide in January was just over 13 million units, compared with 14 million containers per month just over a year ago.

"One explanation is that in the wake of shipping congestion and skyrocketing freight rates, freight forwarders have presumably organized alternative transport routes via rail or road, and are now maintaining them. In addition, China's weakness in demand has consequences: cargo volumes in the Red Sea—the most important maritime trade route between Europe and China—are noticeably below expectations. Responsible for the gap is predominantly less freight from Europe to China," says Hoffmann.

"Free cargo capacity, a container ship network on its way to equilibrium, and catch-up potential in China—overall, January's performance bodes well for a prolonged upswing in international trade."

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

The next update of the Kiel Trade Indicator will take place on February 21 (without media information) and on March 7 (with media information) for February trade data.

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.