The Mediterranean Sea serves as a core international trade route between Europe, the Middle East and Asia. It is the passage for around 10% of global container traffic and 20% of seaborne trade each year. Furthermore, some 20m passengers traverse this vital waterway annually.

Positioned strategically in the middle of this maritime route, connecting the Suez Canal and the Strait of Gibraltar, Misrata benefits from an advantageous geographic location. This location grants the city easy access to a prominent shipping lane that spans the Ionian and Adriatic seas, providing services to the ports of northern Italy, Central Europe and the Balkans. Additionally, Misrata enjoys convenient access to the Tyrrhenian Sea through the strait between Tunisia and Sicily, enabling it to cater to western Mediterranean markets, including France, Spain, Algeria and Morocco. Home to the Misurata Free Zone (MFZ) and its port, Misrata intends to maximise its geographic advantages by undertaking significant developments to its port and trade infrastructure as part of a strategic expansion plan. This comprehensive plan includes establishing a new 500-ha seaport area and expanding the port’s capacity for handling dry cargo. Enhancements will include augmenting grain storage capacity from 40,000 to 60,000 tonnes.

Misrata actively promotes and positions its port as a trans-shipment trade centre. Since December 2021 Misrata’s port has experienced continuous trans-shipment movements and operations. To enhance operational efficiency, transparency, and punctuality in goods processing, the MFZ authorities are driving digitalisation initiatives to automate port facilities, boosting turnaround times and overall competitiveness.

International trade is crucial to Libya and Misrata’s overall economic development and diversification, with both the hydrocarbons and non-hydrocarbons sectors anticipated to grow in the coming years. Historically, Libya has maintained a trade surplus, as the value of its oil and gas exports consistently exceed that of its imports, which predominantly comprised consumer goods, intermediate goods and grains such as wheat and barley.

In 2020 the country witnessed its first trade deficit since 1962, due to the impact of the pandemic and ongoing domestic instability. The trade balance has since recovered, primarily benefitting from higher hydrocarbons prices. Noteworthy milestones include a 10-fold surge in Libyan exports to the US in 2021, alongside an eight-year high in trade with the EU during the same period.

The EU is Libya’s largest trading partner, with Italy holding the top position among EU member states and serving as the most significant individual export market. In 2018 it was responsible for 33.6% of all Libyan exports, according to the World Bank’s World Integrated Trade Solution portal. China is also a crucial export market, accounting for 16.6% of imports that year, followed by Spain, at 10.1%. Turkey claimed the largest share, at 11.1% in 2018. The trade relationship between Turkey and Libya is expected to grow substantially. The Turkish Exporters’ Council stated that its exports to Libya between January and the end of October 2022 exceeded $2bn, with bilateral trade projected to climb to $15bn in the future, the Turkish Libyan Businessmen Association reported in March 2022.