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Bountiful harvests in the Southern Hemisphere drive reefer shipping growth

Following a challenging 2023, the reefer shipping sector has initiated 2024 with improved conditions, driven by bountiful harvests in the Southern Hemisphere. Drewry's Reefer Shipping Forecaster indicates a positive shift for the sector in 2024, marking a potential end to the preceding two years of decline. Enhanced deciduous exports have been noted, with South Africa's citrus production expected to contribute significantly to growth, thanks to the introduction of new orchards and favorable agricultural conditions. New Zealand's kiwifruit sector, despite a slow start, is anticipated to recover strongly during the year.

The sector has also seen a positive start in the meat and bananas trade, with growth in the single digits year-on-year. This uplift in key commodity exports is accompanied by a decrease in reefer freight rates, as shipping lines adjust to post-pandemic conditions and address excess capacity issues. Despite initial rate increases in the first quarter of 2024 due to geopolitical tensions, rates are forecasted to decline further.

Container shipping's resilience, despite delays and backlogs, particularly at the Panama Canal, has been notable. Long-term agreements have ensured priority for shipments, aiding in schedule maintenance. Additionally, improved rainfall in Central America is expected to ameliorate canal transit conditions, though water levels remain below average historical figures.

Drewry anticipates that the positive trends in exports and the ongoing reduction in freight rates will contribute to a growth in worldwide seaborne reefer volumes of more than 1% year-on-year in 2024.


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