The volume of goods transported through ports in northern Europe looks set to drop in 2013, according to the latest analysis of the industry.
Figures from the Institute of Shipping Economics and Logistics expect to see container throughput fall by around ten per cent in the next six months, a significant and sharp deterioration when compared with the same period in 2011-2012.
Their Global Port Tracker survey indicates that total volumes, which include deep-sea, short-sea, transhipment and empty movements, will fall by 9.3 per cent, in comparison to a 6.7 per cent drop 12 months ago.
North European imports are set to be hardest hit, with an expected fall of 11.9 per cent, compared with a 4.7 per cent decline in the comparable period a year earlier.
Incoming volumes of deep-sea, short-sea, transhipment and empty boxes in northern Europe will decline 2.8 per cent in 2013 to 16.04 million 20-foot-equivalent units and the competition for trade is so high that some ports in the region, such as Rotterdam, are actually reducing fees in a bid to attract shippers, though there is no sign of UK ports following suit.
Economists put the estimated reduction down to declining consumer confidence in the eurozone, which has some experts worried that a deeper contraction could occur.
Spending has been hit hard by rising unemployment, low wage growth and tight fiscal policy in many countries, with UK retail sales remaining sluggish.
Some economists believe that the continued weakness in the European economies confirms that the recession is here and will continue forward into 2013, suggesting that recovery may not come before 2014.