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Asia feeds transpacific recovery

Ian Putzger finds out how demand for perishables has been boosting routes from the Americas to Asia and explores what lies in store for this route’s traffic

E arly January saw the launch of a new, albeit short-lived, freighter link between Canada and China, as Yangtze River Express mounted Boeing 747-400F flights to Halifax, Canada. The charters, which ran for four weeks, hauled live lobster from Nova Scotia to Chinese diners in the run-up to Lunar New Year celebrations.


“Nova Scotia lobsters are in high demand in China,” commented Jevey Zhang, President of Yangtze River Express at the inaugural flight. “We’re happy to provide additional capacity between Halifax and China, ensuring fresh lobsters arrive here in the shortest possible time.”


Shipments of fresh food have been a significant driver of air freight flows from the Americas to Asia, as reflected by the double-digit rise in perishables traffic. For China Southern Airlines, seafood and e-commerce shipments have been the main commodities on its flights from the US west coast to its home market, while Chicago generated more industrial and mechanical goods, reports William Lee from the airline's cargo department.


After a sluggish start to the year, 2016 saw a gradual recovery in transpacific volumes, culminating in the strongest peak season in years, notes Jan Krems, President of United Cargo. This optimism is shared by Mark Sutch, General Manager of Cargo Sales and Marketing at Cathay Pacific, who expects the strong year-end momentum to carry into 2017.


United Airlines is looking to expand its perishables handling capabilities in Asia this year. "We are specifically excited about the growth possibilities for our TempControl product for pharmaceuticals, medicines and other commodities requiring temperature-controlled transport. Both pharma manufacturing and consumer demand are expanding in the region, and 10 major cities in the Pacific are now currently certified locations in our TempControl network. We are actively pursuing adding additional locations in the region," says Krems.


Another area he is looking to build up is e-commerce. This sector is showing promise in both directions, according to Roger Samways, Managing Director of Global Accounts and Sales Strategy and Acting Head of Cargo Sales at American Airlines Cargo. "This is definitely an opportunity for us," he says, adding that besides mail, American is exploring co-operation with forwarders in this sector.


For China Southern the e-commerce market between China and the US – being larger than on intra-Asian sectors – is very important, remarks Lee. At this point the carrier concentrates mainly on westbound flows, working with several major forwarders and e-commerce platforms in the US, he explains.


The automotive sector was another strong driver of transpacific flows in recent years. Virtually every flight of Nippon Cargo Airlines to the US has carried some automotive cargo, from spares to full cars, reports Shawn McWhorter, President of NCA Americas.


With the mood in the US swinging to protectionism and the auto industry a major target for the new administration, it is unclear how this traffic will fare in 2017, although Sutch and other industry executives expect no immediate fallout. Industry experts believe it will take some time for changes in automotive supply chains to take shape.


Hopes of a boost in transpacific trade through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) initiative, on the other hand, have rapidly faded. In the wake of the election, predictions that TPP would make Asian countries like Vietnam even more attractive as manufacturing bases (as DHL forecast) were already muted, and the new president’s decision to withdraw from the agreement appears to have extinguished hope altogether, despite ongoing interest in other nations in Asia and the Americas. >>

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