Global trade and shipping figures continue to disappoint, but investment into the freight sector continues, with logistics providers hoping better routes to market will help buck the trend.

In Asia, DHL has initiated an extension of its road freight service linking the previous network of Singapore-Malaysia and Thailand up with Vietnam and China. The company will now provide its less-than-truckload service across all five nations, which it says greatly reduces the time it takes for goods to reach market.

Much has been made of the transport infrastructure gap in Asia, and the multi-billion dollar net drag it has on regional trade. Under-investment, bureaucracy, security issues and terrorism all combine to mean that sea transport can be expensive and time-consuming.

By ocean freight, it typically takes cargo 13 days to travel from Shenzhen in South China to Bangkok. DHL says its new service will do the same distance in just five. While air transit is quicker – four days on average – it costs significantly more.

The company’s head of operations for global freight forwarding, Asia Pacific, Charles Kaufmann, tells GTR that the expansion was designed to coincide with the development of China’s One Belt, One Road project, which will create new land and sea routes across Asia and Europe.

“OBOR is expected to strengthen cross-border economic ties in markets between Europe and Asia and we are positive about its effect on the potential trade expansion in the region. Logistics plays a key role in infrastructure building. With the reported infrastructure gap in Asia, DHL sees great potential in moving industrial projects and other cargo as infrastructure investments in the region grow,” he says.

The shipping slump, meanwhile, continues. This week shipping giant Maersk announced a 7.3% drop in profits, year on year, with the company blaming the loss on the lower freight rates on the Asia-Europe trade flow.

In a statement, the company said: “We expect the market to remain weak. We expect – with continued over-capacity – the rates to remain under pressure. We expect global container demand in 2015 to grow by 2-4% against a previous expectation of 3-5%.”

The Port of Hamburg this week also announced that seaborne cargo was down 6.8% over the first half of 2015. Overall, container shipping from Asia to Europe was down 20% – indicative of the wider trend in global trade and exports.

It has made the £4.2bn purchase of Australian logistics firm Asciano all the more eye-opening. The freight company – which operates port, rail and sea networks – was purchased by a group led by Brookfield Asset Management, a Canadian company, in the fifth-largest buyout of an Australian company by foreign investors in history.

Given the precarious position of Australia’s exports sector (prices for many of its key commodities have plummeted, as China’s demand dries up and other parts of the world turn their back on coal), the move can be seen as something of a gamble.

The Asciano CEO John Mullen, however, is naturally bullish: “This combination will provide Asciano the scope to leverage our industry leading expertise globally, and the financial capacity to take advantage of the myriad of growth opportunities in our sector,” he says.