shipping containers china u.s.

Visualizing Global Shipping Container Traffic

Shipping container traffic

Visualizing Global Shipping Container Traffic

Globalization owes a lot to the humble shipping container.

In the distant past, loading a ship was a complicated affair involving pallets, crates, and winches. This process was labor-intensive and expensive, meaning most goods were simply not worth shipping overseas.

In the 1970s, the standardized shipping container solved this problem on a wide scale and turned the world economy on its head. This standardization drove the cost of shipping down as the efficiency of ports skyrocketed. Modern ports can now move upwards of 70 containers per crane per hour.

It doesn’t matter anymore where you produce something now, because transport costs aren’t important.

– Rainer Horn, Hapag-Lloyd

Made in China

With the barrier of shipping costs effectively removed, production began to migrate to countries with cheaper production costs.

China is at the center of this new paradigm: nearly one-third of all global containers move through Chinese ports, and seven of the top 10 ports in the world are all located in China.

Countries Moving the Most Units

Here are the 50 countries with the most 20-foot containers passing through their ports:

RankCountry20-Foot Container Count (2017)
1China (inc. H.K.)234,489,920
2United States51,425,464
3Singapore33,600,000
4South Korea27,427,000
5Malaysia24,719,000
6Japan21,904,444
7U.A.E.21,280,900
8Germany19,447,600
9Spain17,065,000
10Netherlands13,951,000
11Indonesia13,859,500
12India13,259,000
13Vietnam12,284,395
14Belgium11,857,009
15Thailand10,732,000
16Italy10,698,030
17United Kingdom10,530,328
18Brazil10,049,282
19Turkey9,927,385
20Saudi Arabia8,404,000
21Philippines8,196,961
22Australia7,693,643
23Egypt7,430,000
24Panama6,900,000
25France6,714,551
26Mexico6,305,000
27Canada6,298,590
28Sri Lanka6,000,000
29Oman4,784,712
30South Africa4,634,900
31Morocco4,570,000
32Russia4,515,000
33Greece4,461,000
34Chile4,189,669
35Colombia3,444,503
36New Zealand3,227,100
37Portugal3,220,100
38Malta3,203,000
39Iran3,091,000
40Pakistan2,985,600
41Israel2,865,028
42Bangladesh2,587,000
43Poland2,459,900
44Peru2,368,989
45Ecuador1,944,135
46Finland1,920,800
47Argentina1,750,102
48Jamaica1,689,000
49Nigeria1,656,000
50Sweden1,593,450

Asian countries dominate shipping container traffic, taking up four of the top five spots. Singapore, with a population of just 5.4 million, moved nearly 34 million 20-foot containers in 2017. That’s more than Italy, France, Russia, Sweden, and the U.K. combined.

The United States is still the number two country in the world in terms of the number of containers handled. Two massive ports in Los Angeles control over a quarter of the North American market share, and the Port of New York & New Jersey is the largest on the Eastern Seaboard.

The Stack Keeps Growing

Except for a brief slip in 2009, the number of containers moving through ports has increased every year this millennium so far.

Global container shipping chart

In spite of the recent volley of tariff actions, there appears to be smooth sailing ahead for the growth of containerized shipping.

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