Asia air cargo market gets e-commerce boost as US-China trade war yet to bite

Large Asian cargo carriers including Cathay Pacific Airways rely on freight for around a quarter of revenue. (AFP)
Updated 19 October 2018
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Asia air cargo market gets e-commerce boost as US-China trade war yet to bite

  • E-commerce is growing at pace in populous Asia, driven by Chinese behemoth Alibaba Group and rival JD.com
  • Boeing on Monday forecast air cargo traffic would double over the next 20 years

JEJU, South Korea: Strong e-commerce demand is fueling Asia’s air freight market, with the US-China trade war having minimal negative impact so far and in some cases even boosting shipments, industry executives said on Friday.
E-commerce is growing at pace in populous Asia, driven by Chinese behemoth Alibaba Group and rival JD.com, as well as others such as Japan’s Rakuten, sponsor of Spanish soccer giants FC Barcelona.
But the flow of goods has been threatened this year by the United States imposing import tariffs on billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods to redress what it regards as unfair trade relations — with China’s government responding in kind.
“I think right now we are probably going to see a pretty strong fourth quarter,” Randy Tinseth, Boeing Co’s vice president for commercial airplane marketing, said on the sidelines of an industry conference.
“The economy today has been very, very strong. Frankly in anticipation of this geopolitical situation I think people are just going out and moving (cargo) quickly.”
Asia-Pacific air cargo volume rose 4.8 percent in January-August, showed data from the Association of Asia Pacific Airlines (AAPA). That was lower than last year’s 9.8 percent but came off a higher comparison base at a time of record shipments, said AAPA Director-General Andrew Herdman.
“Given this short-term effect of scrambling to meet deadlines for tariff imposition and so on we are seeing pockets – lanes and channels – where demand is stronger than expected. For the next several months the cargo picture remains relatively robust. The question is what will the outlook for next year be.”
Asian airlines have an outsized role in air freight, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the global market as the region is a major manufacturing hub and e-commerce is growing.
“E-commerce is changing the way people are buying stuff, especially in countries such as Indonesia and the Philippines,” said Jean-Francois Laval, Airbus executive vice president, Asia sales. “It is coming from China, from Korea, it is coming from other parts of the region. You need a huge amount of cargo space.”
Boeing on Monday forecast air cargo traffic would double over the next 20 years, growing at an average rate of 4.2 percent a year.
To meet that demand, the aircraft manufacturer expects the world freighter fleet to expand over 70 percent to 3,260 planes. Around half of air cargo is carried in the bellies of passenger jets, with the remainder flown on dedicated freighters.
Some large Asian cargo carriers including Cathay Pacific Airways and Korean Air Lines rely on freight for around a quarter of revenue.
“Last year the cargo market was extremely hot. In 2018 it still grew. The trade tensions in the world will have some effects but we haven’t seen it yet. I see constraints coming in a very short time. However, we are preparing for it,” Korean Air President Walter Cho told reporters on Friday.
“Anything from the US to China and vice versa is going to be affected. We are looking at alternate markets to China and the US as well.”
Japan Airlines President Yuji Akasaka said the trade war had made no change to the cargo market to date and he only expected an impact if “extremes” occurred.
“If it does happen it may affect us in the future but as of right now we haven’t seen it and hope it will cool down and go back to normal,” he said through a translator.
In the short term, trade war impact has not been too visible because initial tariffs were on items not typically transported by air such as metals, AAPA’s Herdman said. That is starting to change, however, as duties apply to more goods.
“I heard one example ... Seafood from the US to China is subject to retaliatory tariffs, so demand in China is down. Guess what? Demand for Canadian seafood is doing just fine.”


More than 100 Saudi groups at Dubai’s GITEX week

Updated 22 September 2019

More than 100 Saudi groups at Dubai’s GITEX week

  • GITEX is an international platform

DUBAI: More than 100 Saudi organizations, including government entities, private companies and startups, are participating at the upcoming GITEX Technology Week in Dubai, from Oct. 6 to 10, indicating an increase in Saudi participation from last year at the annual technology gathering.

Bringing in one of the biggest contingents at the event, at 114, Saudi Arabia is also an official partner of GITEX this year, which is expecting to host more than 100,000 visitors over four days at the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC).

“There’s a lot of collaboration and integration in this region — there’s a lot of learning and sharing. GITEX is an international platform. This is where the Saudi contingent comes — from the big enterprise sector to the startup ecosystem — to interact with hundreds and thousands of visitors from over 140 countries,” Trixie LohMirmand, senior vice president of events management at DWTC, told reporters on Sunday.

LohMirmand also noted a spike in Saudi participation at the GITEX Future Stars, a concurrent event that focuses on the region’s startup community.

“We have a big Saudi Innovation Day. In fact, Saudis are again bringing a big contingent of startups. It’s led by the deputy minister of communications from Saudi Arabia to explore partnerships and discuss the opportunities in the region, particularly for startups,” she said, referring to the three special sessions that will focus on the Kingdom’s technology drive.

This increase in participation, LohMirmand said, is a reflection of a bigger “impetus on innovation and the getting the startup community going” in the region.

“We see a lot of new tech coming out, so there’s a lot of interest to give these companies an opportunity to connect to the rest of the world. When you come to GITEX, we connect you to the rest of the world — we host over 500 investors from all around the world, including from Silicon Valley,” she added.

Firat Aktas, DWTC’s director of brand innovation and communication, stressed: “You can see what’s happening around the world — the Saudis are showing their ambition very clearly in various industries.”

Earlier this year, the Saudi Telecom Company signed a deal with Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson to launch commercial 5G services in the Kingdom. “The roll-out continues. It’s a huge deployment in different parts of Saudi Arabia,” Wojciech Bajda, head of Gulf Council countries and global customer unit zain, told Arab News. “The focus for our customers currently is to understand how to monetize 5G, how to make sure there’s an industrial application of 5G in Saudi Arabia.”

Bajda also said they are looking at introducing 5G to different sectors in the Kingdom such as mining, and oil and gas. “We have engagements with different industries in trying to prototype together, and see if there’s something relevant for Saudi Arabia, and for our customers like the Saudi Telecom Company to pick up and do a full implementation,” he added. 

What to expect at GITEX this year 

This year’s GITEX, which has the theme “Synergizing the Mind and Technology Economy,” will highlight the region’s 5G adoption, as well as other futuristic concepts such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and immersive technology.

LohMirmand said the dwelling time for GITEX visitors has increased over the years, owing to the gathering’s massive content offering.

“We are measuring more in terms of dwelling time. You can have 100,000 people come one day and do, but now the trend for us is we’re seeing them staying longer. Because there’s so much content, there’s so much knowledge, and so many companies with new technology, dwelling time is much longer, averaging 3.5 to 4 days,” she explained.

“Visitors and exhibitors are having deeper and more meaningful interactions at the show.”

The halls of DWTC will be divided into six sectors: 5G, AI, Future mobility, GITEX lifestyle tech, and Smart cities. It opens Oct. 6.