Trade tensions could knock up to one percentage point from global trade growth in the next 12 months if planned increases in tariffs by the US and China are implemented, according to Maersk chief executive Søren Skou.
Citing the International Monetary Fund, Skou said any escalation “could cause the global economy to slow further”.
Speaking to analysts following the release of the carrier’s second-quarter results, he added: “That, of course, would be negative for us.”
Nevertheless, Skou said the drag from tariffs on US imports from China had been less than expected, and while US imports from China were down by 7% in the first half of the year, transpacific trade overall had grown by 1% and total imports to the US rose by 2.5%.
The impact of tariffs was being moderated by a number of factors, Skou said.
“The most important one is that consumer spending is what drives demand in our industry,” he said. “Consumer spending remains fairly robust in the US, supported by good labour markets and high consumer confidence.”
Additionally, goods affected by tariffs in the US represented only 4% of the US consumer spending basket.
“We also see mitigation from exchange rates,” Skou said. “A stronger dollar against the Chinese renminbi reduces the impact of tariffs against imported goods and the renminbi has weakened more than 10% against the US dollar since 2018.”
Both Chinese exporters and US importers had absorbed some of the tariff costs through lower margins, he added.
As he pointed out in an interview with Lloyd’s List in July, sourcing patterns were also changing.
“Imports of goods to the US from outside of China have increased, growing at close to double digits in the first half,” Skou told analysts. “New sourcing locations often container higher freight rates and open up new opportunities for us to sell logistics services.”