Some Asian ports are expecting a drop in container throughput growth this year due to the financial crisis and the economic recession. A report by Britain-based Cargo Systems said the Asian financial crisis started to be felt towards the end of last year, meaning the impact would be more noticeable in this year's final figures. 'The prevailing wisdom is that there will be a drop in intra-Asian trade, a decrease in imports and a surge in exports,' it said. The first two factors appeared certain but it was not clear how soon the export surge would materialise. In recent months, some ports in the region have reported a big increase in exports, but low levels of imports. The Port of Long Beach in the United States said it experienced a 20.2 per cent year-on-year rise in container throughput from Asia to 378,714 teu (20 ft equivalent units) in July. Exports to Europe also had surged, with container traffic from Asia to Hamburg up 14.3 per cent in the first half this year, Cargo Systems said. Hong Kong, which beat Singapore to retain its title as the world's busiest container port last year with record container throughput of 14.5 million teu, would have a hard time retaining the title in the next few years, it said. Hong Kong expected to handle only slightly more than 15 million teu this year. In Malaysia, Kelang Container Terminal in Port Kelang had seen a significant drop in import volume. It was importing more empty containers to offset the demand imbalance, the report said. Imbalances in trade were causing logistical problems at Asian ports - a problem likely to worsen if the export surge continued. 'Indonesia's port of Tanjung Priok is in the eye of the storm as far as the Asian crisis is concerned,' the report said. Tanjung, which recorded 17 per cent growth last year, expected this year's throughput to be below 1996 levels. Although imports last year climbed almost 15 per cent to 829,853 teu, the port expected a 21 per cent decline this year, and a further 2 per cent fall next year. Exports, which rose 20 per cent last year, were expected to fall 9 per cent to about 766,200 teu. The report said hopes for an export surge might take longer than expected to be realised. 'Much will depend on how quickly domestic industries are able to recover from the initial shock of financial collapse to take advantage of more competitive currencies.' Growth in traffic among the top 100 container ports worldwide picked up slightly last year, touching the 10 per cent levels seen in 1995, compared with just under 9 per cent in 1996. 'Growth for the Asian ports last year was slightly below the overall average at 8.8 per cent, for a total of 64.77 million teu,' the report said. Europe saw a massive 14 per cent rise, fuelled by strong growth at Mediterranean ports. Leading northern European ports at Rotterdam, Hamburg, Antwerp and Bremerhaven recorded average increases of about 10 per cent. Total European traffic grew from 27.98 million teu to 31.6 million teu last year.