Growth in container throughput at major mainland ports is likely to slow in the second half of the year due to the European sovereign debt crisis, the Ministry of Transport warns. So far, Europe's problems have not significantly affected China's containerised exports, which enjoyed strong growth in the first half, but the ministry said the crisis would have a delayed effect. In the first six months, throughput at major ports rose 22.7 per cent to a record high of 64.4 million 20-foot-equivalent units (teu), according to the ministry's estimate on June 25. The ministry's warning was echoed by Daniel Poon Wing-choi, assistant chief economist of Hong Kong's Trade Development Council, who said: 'One of the major challenges to Hong Kong exporters is the sovereign debt crisis in Europe. 'The austerity measures by various European governments will affect the purchasing power of European consumers and drag down the euro. If the euro remains weak against the yuan and the US dollar, it may affect Hong Kong's competitiveness in the second half.' Willy Lin Sun-mo, chairman of the Hong Kong Shippers' Council, said: 'European sentiment at this moment is jumpy. 'Up to August there shouldn't be too much trouble, but beyond that, I don't know,' Lin said, commenting on European orders received by Hong Kong shippers. 'With the euro at such a weak level, imports of European products into Asia have been strong. A lot of European products are coming to Asia by sea and air.' For the first six months of this year, cargo throughput at major mainland ports rose 17.7 per cent, down on the 19 per cent rise for the first five months, the ministry estimated. The mainland's imports of iron ore grew 8 per cent to 340 million tonnes in the first half. With obsolete steel mills increasingly eliminated as part of the government's policy to restructure the steel industry, imports of iron ore might actually decrease in the second half, the ministry said. Imports of crude oil remained steady, growing 28 per cent to 108 million tonnes in the first half, while coal throughput grew at a rapid pace of 19.9 per cent to 270 million tonnes, according to the ministry. As a reflection of strong internal trade, cargo throughput along the Yangtze river grew 30 per cent to 670 million tonnes in the first half, while container throughput along the river increased 34.8 per cent to 4.27 million teu. Cargo throughput along the Pearl River Delta grew at a slower rate of 15.5 per cent to 180 million tonnes during the first half of the year, the ministry said.