How does Finland’s foreign trade show at sea?

Figuratively speaking, Finland is an island. Finland lives off exports. Sea transport is our lifeline, but how are the goods shipped at sea?

Maritime transport is not growing

In 2019, Finland’s foreign trade, in tonnage, totalled 101 million tons. The total has fluctuated around 90–100 million tons since 2003. This means that the volume of our maritime transport, measured in tons, has not changed, even though the value of our foreign trade in euros has increased considerably. This is because an increasing proportion of our exports and imports are either services or highly processed goods, which means more valuable cargo in relation to weight and not greater maritime transport volumes.

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Figure 1. Finland’s maritime foreign trade (Source: Statistics Finland, 2020)

How are goods transported at sea?

Of the approximately 100 million tons of maritime trade, 12 million tons were in container vessels. Trucks and trailers, on ro-ro or ro-pax vessels or passenger-car ferries, carried 15 million tons. A total of 73 per cent of Finland’s foreign trade is transported on bulk carriers or tankers.

The import of consumer goods and the export of highly processed goods usually take place in containers, trucks or trailers. Of these, containers usually come from countries outside Europe, such as China. Trailers travel directly between Finland and Germany or Poland, and trucks between Finland and either Sweden or Estonia.

By contrast, raw materials from around the world, such as oil, grain, ores, fertilisers, and so on, travel on bulk carriers or tankers, and they usually travel on the same vessel throughout their entire voyage. Much of the oil comes from nearby: the town of Primorsk in Russia.

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Figure 2. Finnish foreign trade in unitised (trucks, trailers and containers) and bulk cargo (source: Statistics Finland, 2020)

Trucks practically only run from Helsinki, Hanko, Naantali, Turku and Vaasa. Passenger-car ferries operate on some of these routes and ro-ro ships without passengers on others. Some 48 per cent of all truck traffic to Sweden goes through Turku, and 85 per cent of all truck traffic to Estonia goes through the ports in Helsinki city centre.

Less than 10 per cent of all Finnish foreign trade transport is handled by passenger-car ferries.
About 10 to 30% of passenger ship company revenues come from freight transport, depending on the route. Most of the revenue comes from passenger tickets, passenger cars and purchases on the ship. It is no wonder that passenger ship companies have been in dire straits throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

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Figure 3. Maritime traffic on trucks by port (source: Statistics Finland, 2020)

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