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Visualizing Global Shipping Container Traffic

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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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Markets

RCEP Explained: The World’s Biggest Trading Bloc Will Soon be in Asia-Pacific

The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) covers 30% of global GDP and population. Here’s everything you need to know about it.

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RCEP Explained: The World’s Biggest Trading Bloc

Trade and commerce are the lifeblood of the global economy. Naturally, agreements among nations in a certain geographical area help facilitate relationships in ways that are ideally beneficial for everyone involved.

In late 2020, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) was signed, officially creating the biggest trade bloc in history. Here, we break down everything you need to know about it, from who’s involved to its implications.

Who’s in the RCEP, and Why Was it Created?

The RCEP is a free trade agreement between 15 nations in the Asia-Pacific region, and has been formalized after 28 rounds of discussion over eight years.

Member nations who are a part of the RCEP will benefit from lowered or completely eliminated tariffs on imported goods and services within the region in the next 20 years. Here are the countries which have signed on to be member nations:

CountryPopulation (M)Nominal GDP ($B)
🇦🇺 Australia25.7$1,359
🇧🇳 Brunei0.5$12
🇰🇭 Cambodia15.7$26
🇨🇳 China1404$14,723
🇮🇩 Indonesia270.2$1,060
🇯🇵 Japan125.8$5,049
🇰🇷 South Korea51.8$1,631
🇱🇦 Laos7.3$19
🇲🇾 Malaysia32.9$338
🇲🇲 Myanmar53.2$81
🇳🇿 New Zealand5.1$209
🇵🇭 Philippines108.8$362
🇸🇬 Singapore5.8$340
🇹🇭 Thailand69.8$502
🇻🇳 Vietnam97.4$341
RCEP Total2,274.2M$26,052B

Source: IMF

But there is still some work to do to bring the trade agreement into full effect.

Signing the agreement, the step taken in late 2020, is simply an initial show of support for the trade agreement, but now it needs to be ratified. That means these nations still have to give their consent to be legally bound to the terms within the RCEP. Once the RCEP is ratified by three-fifths of its signatories—a minimum of six ASEAN nations and three non-ASEAN nations—it will go ahead within 60 days.

So far, it’s been ratified by China, Japan, Thailand, and Singapore as of April 30, 2021. At its current pace, the RCEP is set to come into effect in early 2022 as all member nations have agreed to complete the ratification process within the year.

Interestingly, in the midst of negotiations in 2019, India pulled out of the agreement. This came after potential concerns about the trade bloc’s impacts on its industrial and agricultural sectors that affect the “lives and livelihoods of all Indians”. India retains the option to rejoin the RCEP in the future, if things change.

The Biggest Trading Blocs, Compared

When we say the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is the biggest trade bloc in history, this statement is not hyperbole.

The RCEP will not only surpass existing Asia-Pacific trade agreements such as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) in size and scope, but also other key regional partnerships in advanced economies.

This includes the European Union and the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA, formerly known as NAFTA). How does the trio stack up?

 Nominal GDP, 2020Population, 2020
EU$15.2 trillion445 million
USMCA$23.7 trillion496 million
RCEP$26.1 trillion2.27 billion
World$84.5 trillion7.64 billion

With the combined might of its 15 signatories, the RCEP accounts for approximately 30% of global GDP and population. Interestingly, the total population covered within the RCEP is near or over five times that of the other trade blocs.

Another regional agreement not covered here is the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which is now the largest in terms of participating countries (55 in total), but in the other metrics, the RCEP still emerges superior.

Implications of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership

The potential effects of the RCEP are widespread. Among others, the agreement will establish rules for the region around:

  • Investment
  • Competition
  • E-commerce
  • Intellectual property
  • Telecommunications

However, there are some key exclusions that have raised critics’ eyebrows. These are:

  • Labor union provisions
  • Environmental protection
  • Government subsidies

The RCEP could also help China gain even more ground in its economic race against the U.S. towards becoming a global superpower.

Last, but most importantly, Brookings estimates that the potential gains from the RCEP are in the high billions: $209 billion could be added annually to world incomes, and $500 billion may be added to world trade by 2030.

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Mining

Visualizing 50 Years of Global Steel Production

Global steel production has tripled over the past 50 years, with China’s steel production eclipsing the rest of the world.

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Visualizing 50 Years of Global Steel Production

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

From the bronze age to the iron age, metals have defined eras of human history. If our current era had to be defined similarly, it would undoubtedly be known as the steel age.

Steel is the foundation of our buildings, vehicles, and industries, with its rates of production and consumption often seen as markers for a nation’s development. Today, it is the world’s most commonly used metal and most recycled material, with 1,864 million metric tons of crude steel produced in 2020.

This infographic uses data from the World Steel Association to visualize 50 years of crude steel production, showcasing our world’s unrelenting creation of this essential material.

The State of Steel Production

Global steel production has more than tripled over the past 50 years, despite nations like the U.S. and Russia scaling down their domestic production and relying more on imports. Meanwhile, China and India have consistently grown their production to become the top two steel producing nations.

Below are the world’s current top crude steel producing nations by 2020 production.

RankCountrySteel Production (2020, Mt)
#1🇨🇳 China1,053.0
#2🇮🇳 India99.6
#3🇯🇵 Japan83.2
#4🇷🇺 Russia*73.4
#5🇺🇸 United States72.7
#6🇰🇷 South Korea67.1
#7🇹🇷 Turkey35.8
#8🇩🇪 Germany35.7
#9🇧🇷 Brazil31.0
#10🇮🇷 Iran*29.0

Source: World Steel Association. *Estimates.

Despite its current dominance, China could be preparing to scale back domestic steel production to curb overproduction risks and ensure it can reach carbon neutrality by 2060.

As iron ore and steel prices have skyrocketed in the last year, U.S. demand could soon lessen depending on the Biden administration’s actions. A potential infrastructure bill would bring investment into America’s steel mills to build supply for the future, and any walkbalk on the Trump administration’s 2018 tariffs on imported steel could further soften supply constraints.

Steel’s Secret: Infinite Recyclability

Made up primarily of iron ore, steel is an alloy which also contains less than 2% carbon and 1% manganese and other trace elements. While the defining difference might seem small, steel can be 1,000x stronger than iron.

However, steel’s true strength lies in its infinite recyclability with no loss of quality. No matter the grade or application, steel can always be recycled, with new steel products containing 30% recycled steel on average.

The alloy’s magnetic properties make it easy to recover from waste streams, and nearly 100% of the steel industry’s co-products can be used in other manufacturing or electricity generation.

It’s fitting then that steel makes up essential parts of various sustainable energy technologies:

  • The average wind turbine is made of 80% steel on average (140 metric tons).
  • Steel is used in the base, pumps, tanks, and heat exchangers of solar power installations.
  • Electrical steel is at the heart of the generators and motors of electric and hybrid vehicles.

The Steel Industry’s Future Sustainability

Considering the crucial role steel plays in just about every industry, it’s no wonder that prices are surging to record highs. However, steel producers are thinking about long-term sustainability, and are working to make fossil-fuel-free steel a reality by completely removing coal from the metallurgical process.

While the industry has already cut down the average energy intensity per metric ton produced from 50 gigajoules to 20 gigajoules since the 1960s, steel-producing giants like ArcelorMittal are going further and laying out their plans for carbon-neutral steel production by 2050.

Steel consumption and demand is only set to continue rising as the world’s economy gradually reopens, especially as Rio Tinto’s new development of atomized steel powder could bring about the next evolution in 3D printing.

As the industry continues to innovate in both sustainability and usability, steel will continue to be a vital material across industries that we can infinitely recycle and rely on.

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