Tensions in Red Sea – Red Sea Threats Disrupt India’s Trade Flows | 16 January 2024 | UPSC Daily Editorial Analysis

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What's the article about?

  • It talks about the potential impact of the ongoing attacks on Red Sea shipping on India's trade flows. 


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  • Recent attacks on shipping by Yemeni Houthi forces in the Red Sea have exposed vulnerabilities in India's trade flows, raising concerns about economic repercussions.
  • This analysis dissects the potential impact on exports, freight costs, and energy security, exploring both challenges and mitigating factors.

Red Sea: A Vital Artery for World Trade, Particularly for India

  • The Red Sea, a narrow, elongated gulf separating Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, plays a crucial role in global trade, serving as a vital conduit for the movement of goods between Asia, Europe, and Africa.
  • Global Significance:
    • Suez Canal: The Red Sea's pivotal position is amplified by the presence of the Suez Canal, a human-made waterway connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, and consequently, the Indian Ocean.
    • Shortcuts the Journey: The Suez Canal dramatically reduces the shipping distance between Asia and Europe compared to the alternative route around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa. This translates to significant savings in time and fuel costs for shipping companies.
    • Volume of Trade: The Suez Canal handles a staggering volume of maritime traffic, accounting for roughly 12% of global trade. In 2023, over 1 billion tons of cargo transited the canal, highlighting its immense importance to the global economy.
  • Importance for India:
    • Trade Corridor: India's trade with Europe, the Middle East, and Africa heavily relies on the Red Sea route. Nearly 30% of India's total exports and imports traverse the Suez Canal, encompassing a wide range of goods like manufactured products, agricultural produce, and energy resources.
    • Oil Transportation: The Red Sea is a critical pathway for oil tankers carrying crude oil from the Middle East to India. Disruptions in the Red Sea can significantly impact India's energy security, as witnessed recently with the Houthi attacks on vessels.
    • Economic Growth: Efficient and cost-effective trade through the Red Sea is vital for India's economic growth, as it facilitates exports, fuels domestic industries, and promotes international partnerships.

  • Challenges and Risks:
    • Geopolitical Tensions: The Red Sea's strategic location makes it susceptible to geopolitical tensions and conflicts, as recently demonstrated by the Houthi attacks. Such disruptions can lead to increased security risks, shipping delays, and higher costs for traders.
    • Piracy and Terrorism: While less prevalent than in the past, piracy and terrorist threats still pose a risk to shipping in the Red Sea, necessitating enhanced security measures and international cooperation.
    • Environmental Concerns: The Red Sea's delicate marine ecosystem is vulnerable to pollution from shipping activities and oil spills. Sustainable shipping practices and environmental regulations are crucial to preserving the long-term viability of the trade route.
  • The Red Sea's significance for world trade, particularly for India, cannot be overstated. Its strategic location, coupled with the Suez Canal, facilitates efficient and cost-effective movement of goods across continents, driving economic growth and prosperity.
  • However, the route's vulnerability to geopolitical tensions, security threats, and environmental concerns necessitates proactive measures to ensure its continued stability and sustainable use.
  • By addressing these challenges and fostering international cooperation, India and other stakeholders can safeguard the Red Sea's vital role in the global trade network.


  • Key Threats:
    • Disruptions to Suez Canal transit: The Red Sea is a critical maritime artery, particularly for goods transiting between Asia and Europe via the Suez Canal. This vital conduit accounts for 30% of global container ship traffic and faces heightened security risks.
    • Surge in transportation costs: Rerouting around Africa via the Cape of Good Hope adds two weeks to journey times and incurs a 25% increase in freight rates. Insurance premiums are also expected to rise with heightened risk in the Red Sea.
    • Potential $30 billion hit to exports: Estimates suggest a 6.7% decline in Indian exports due to rerouting and increased costs.
    • Potential contract disruptions: Exporters face delays and cancellations as buyers may renegotiate contracts based on extended delivery times and increased costs.
  • Positive Developments:
    • No container shortage: Despite longer journeys, no significant container shortage has been reported, easing logistical concerns.
    • Contract stability: Export contracts remain largely stable for now, avoiding immediate disruptions to trade agreements.
    • Energy supply resilience: Oil imports from Russia through the Red Sea remain unaffected, ensuring continued energy security for India.
  • Potential Mitigation Measures:
    • Government support: Seeking government assistance to offset rising costs and explore alternative transportation options like cargo flights can alleviate pressure on exporters.
    • Route diversification: Utilizing alternative trade routes, such as the Iranian Chabahar port, can provide some redundancy and reduce dependence on the Red Sea.
    • International cooperation: Advocating for international efforts to de-escalate the conflict and stabilize the region is crucial for long-term trade security.
  • Energy Security: A Mixed Picture:
    • Crude oil imports largely unaffected: Data suggests that only a fraction of India's oil imports from Russia traverse the Red Sea, minimizing immediate disruptions to energy security.
    • Vulnerability to broader conflict: Increased tensions in the Middle East could pose significant risks to oil imports through the Strait of Hormuz, potentially causing energy price shocks.

Way Forward:

  • The Red Sea disruptions highlight the fragility of India's trade flows and underscore the need for a multi-pronged approach. Diversification, collaboration, and proactive government measures are critical to mitigate the current economic challenges and build resilience against future disruptions. Continued monitoring and adaptation will be essential as the situation evolves.

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