"The pandemic has brought to the fore the importance of maritime transport as an essential sector for the continued delivery of critical supplies and global trade in time of crisis, during the recovery stage and when resuming normality," UNCTAD’s Review of Maritime Transport 2020 said.
According to Shamika Sirimanne, Director of UNCTAD’s Division on Technology and Logistics, shipping was already pretty depressed in 2019, as trade protectionism, slower oil demand and tariff wars, slashed its growth rate to 0.5%, the lowest since the 2011 financial crisis
Those problems persisted in 2020 and were compounded by the pandemic
Maritime trade volumes, the report said, are expected to rebound by 4.8% in 2021 if economic growth resumes as the pandemic subsides.
However, further waves of the pandemic could lead to a steeper decline in shipping.
"The pandemic has demonstrated that first movers in terms of technological uptake have been able to better weather the storm (for example, commerce and online platforms, those using blockchain solutions and information technology-enabled third-party logistics companies)," it said.
Cybersecurity, and the ability to deal with it, were also becoming increasingly important.
The pandemic was prompting companies to focus more on risk management and resilience and tempting them to shorten their supply chains, which would further depress international trade as more goods are produced close to their ultimate market. That trend was being exacerbated by growing consumer demand for customised goods, the report said.