With all the attention paid to the goods and services targeted in the trade war between the United States and China, it’s easy to overlook the damage the conflict will inflict on the transportation industries that facilitate trade – namely, global shipping. Maritime shipping is especially vulnerable, considering some 80 percent of all world trade is transacted by sea, so it is little wonder that companies have already begun to prepare. And the ways they do so will tell us a lot about how the trade wars are changing global trade patterns.
The shipping industry is, notably, already accustomed to change. Volatility is practically baked into its business model. The price of fuel – which currently accounts for roughly 15 percent of operating costs – is constantly in flux, formed by dozens of factors beyond shippers’ control. Wars and blockades can impede access of cargo ships. Overcapacity is an endemic (albeit cyclical) problem, to say nothing of the normal ups and downs of an