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:
|Rank||Country||20-Foot Container Count (2017)|
|1||China (inc. H.K.)||234,489,920|
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.
In spite of the recent volley of tariff actions, there appears to be smooth sailing ahead for the growth of containerized shipping.
China’s Growing Trade Dominance in Latin America
Over the last two decades, trade between China and Latin America has grown significantly, which has threatened U.S. dominance in the region.
China’s Growing Trade Dominance in Latin America
Over the past 20 years, China’s economic presence around the world has grown significantly, including in Latin America.
Now, China is one of Latin America’s largest trade partners, which is threatening U.S. dominance in the region. This graphic by Latinometrics uses IMF data to show trade flows between China and Latin America since the 1980s.
Two Decades of Trade Growth
Four decades ago, the United States had a much stronger trade relationship with Latin America than China did. In 1981, Cuba was the only Latin American country trading more with China than the United States.
Here’s a look at total trade flows between Latin America and the two countries since 1980. Latinometrics calculated trade flows as total exports plus imports.
|Trade Flows by Year||U.S. & Latin America||China & Latin America|
Things stayed relatively stagnant until the early 2000s. Then suddenly, at the start of the new millennium, trade between China and Latin America started to ramp up.
This uptick was driven largely by Chinese demand for things like copper, oil, and other raw materials that the country needed to help fuel its industrial revolution.
Momentum has continued for two decades, and now China is the top trading partner in nine different Latin American countries. In fact, in 2021, imports and exports between China and Latin America (excluding Mexico) reached $247 billion—that’s $73 billion more than trade flows with the United States that same year.
Trade between China and Latin America is expected to keep growing, at least for the time being. By 2035, trade flows between the two regions are projected to more than double, according to World Economic Forum.
China’s Global Economic Presence
China’s trade takeover of Latin America speaks to a wider trend that’s happening on a global scale—over the last two decades, China has surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest trading partner.
While China is likely to remain the world’s leading trade partner for the foreseeable future, growth is likely to slow in the short-term, given ongoing supply chain issues and geopolitical tensions that have disrupted the global economy.
Visualizing China’s $18 Trillion Economy in One Chart
China’s economy reached a GDP of 114 trillion yuan ($18 trillion) in 2021, well above government targets. What sectors drove that growth?
Visualizing China’s $18 Trillion Economy in 2021
China is the world’s second largest economy after the U.S., and it is expected to eventually climb into the number one position in the coming decades.
While China’s economy has had a much rockier start this year due to zero-tolerance COVID-19 lockdowns and supply chain issues, our visualization covers a full year of data for 2021—a year in which most economies recovered after the initial chaos of the pandemic.
In 2021, China’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) reached ¥114 trillion ($18 trillion in USD), according to the National Bureau of Statistics. The country’s economy outperformed government targets of 6% growth, with the overall economy growing by 8.1%.
Let’s take a look at what powers China’s modern economy.
Breaking Down China’s Economy By Sector
|Sector||2021 Total GDP |
|2021 Total GDP |
|Wholesale and Retail Trades||¥10.5T||$1.7T||9.2%|
|Farming, Forestry, Animal Husbandry, and Fishery||¥8.7T||$1.4T||7.6%|
|Transport, Storage, and Post||¥4.7T||$0.7T||4.1%|
|Information Transmission, Software and IT Services||¥4.4T||$0.7T||3.9%|
|Renting & Leasing Activities and Business Services||¥3.5T||$0.6T||3.1%|
|Accommodation and Restaurants||¥1.8T||$0.3T||1.6%|
Industrial production—activity in the manufacturing, mining, and utilities sectors—is by far the leading driver of China’s economy. In 2021, the sector generated ¥37.3 trillion, or one-third of the country’s total economic activity.
Despite a slowdown in December, wholesale and retail trades also performed strongly in 2021. As the main gauge of consumption, it was affected by lockdown measures and the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant towards the end of the year, but still rose by double digits, reaching a total of ¥10.5 trillion*.
“Other services”, which includes everything from scientific research and development to education and social services, generated 16% of China’s total economy in 2021, or ¥18.1 trillion.
*Editor’s note: At time of publishing, China’s government seems to have since adjusted this number to ¥11.0 trillion, which is not consistent with the original data set provided, but worth noting.
Where is China’s GDP Headed?
China’s economy recovered noticeably faster than most major economies last year, and as the overall trend below shows, the country has grown consistently in the years prior.
Before the pandemic hit, China’s quarterly GDP growth had been quite stable at just above 5%.
After the initial onset of COVID-19, the country’s economy faltered, mirroring economies around the globe. But after a strong recovery into 2021, resurging cases caused a new series of crackdowns on the private sector, slowing down GDP growth considerably.
With the slowdown continuing into early 2022, China’s economic horizon still looks uncertain. The lockdown in Shanghai is expected to continue all the way to June 1st, and over recent months there have been hundreds of ships stuck outside of Shanghai’s port as a part of ongoing supply chain challenges.
China’s Zero-COVID Policy: Good or Bad for the Economy?
While every country reacted to the COVID-19 pandemic differently, China adopted a zero-COVID policy of strict lockdowns to control cases and outbreaks.
For most of 2021, the policy didn’t deter GDP growth. Despite some major cities fully or partially locked down to control regional outbreaks, the country’s economy still paced well ahead of many other major economies.
But the policy faced a challenge with the emergence of the Omicron variant. Despite lockdowns and an 88% vaccination rate nationally, seven out of China’s 31 provinces and all of the biggest cities have reported Omicron cases.
And China’s zero-COVID policy has not affected all sectors equally. Industrial production rose by more than 10% in the first 11 months of 2021, despite city lockdowns around the country. That’s because many factories in China are in suburban industrial parks outside the cities, and employees often live nearby.
But many sectors like hotels and restaurants have been more severely affected by city lockdowns. Many global economies are starting to transition to living with COVID, with China remaining as one of the last countries to follow a zero-COVID policy. Does that ensure the country’s economy will continue to slow in 2022, or will China manage to recover and maintain one of the world’s fastest growing economies?
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