In the Year of the Tiger, China showed its stripes. As nations throughout the maritime world focused on recovery after the worst economic crisis in decades, the trade and maritime power capped a decade of dominance by doing what it does best: producing, exporting and importing a staggering amount of goods ranging from high-value retail products to low-value industrial inputs.
The dominance is overwhelming and plainly obvious in the 145 million 20-foot equivalent container units that moved through Mainland China and Hong Kong last year, 4.2 percent more than the total throughput handled at ports across the entire developed continents of Europe and North America.
That dominance also is on display in The Journal of Commerce’s ranking of the Top 50 World Container Ports, where China placed four of the top five and 11 overall. Along the way, its largest port, Shanghai, catapulted Singapore, ending a five-year reign at the top of the list for the world’s largest transshipment and bunker hub.
It’s a title Shanghai won’t relinquish any time soon, as growth in throughput this year again sets a torrid pace. Through the first half of the year, Shanghai handled nearly 15.3 million TEUs, up 10.4 percent year-over-year.
The only challenge on the horizon to Shanghai’s reign at the top is the equally impressive growth of other Chinese ports as sourcing shifts from the Pacific coast to less costly inland locations up the Yangtze River and along the Pearl River Delta, where a manufacturing and population boom is under way. Among those rapidly growing ports are Shanghai neighbor Ningbo-Zhoushan, No. 5 on the 2010 list with 25 percent growth; No. 7 Guangzhou harbor, up 12.3 percent; No. 8 Qingdao in the east, up 17 percent; and Tianjin in the north, with a 16 percent surge.
Beyond China, the numbers underscore Asia’s pre-eminent role in global trade. Asian ports claimed 26 spots in the JOC Top 50, and accounted for 55 percent of total global throughput of 546 million TEUs, according to Drewry Shipping Consultants.
With many of the ports in developing nations, it’s no wonder terminal operating companies such as DP World and APM Terminals are rushing to bolster their portfolios in emerging regions in Asia, South America and Africa. Among the fastest-rising ports in those regions are No. 26 Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, with throughput jumping 23 percent last year on the backs of rapidly growing apparel production.
U.S. retailers are sourcing growing volumes of apparel in the country and seeking direct U.S. container services. But the rapid growth in trade since Vietnam’s admittance into the World Trade Organization is causing congestion, prompting the government to instruct Ho Chi Minh to develop other terminal alternatives to ease the gridlock.
North America placed just five ports in the Top 50, three on the West Coast: No. 16 Los Angeles, with 7.8 million TEUs; neighboring Long Beach, No. 18 with 6.3 million TEUs; and No. 49 Port Metro Vancouver with 2.5 million TEUs. Oakland’s 2.3 million TEUs kept it just outside the Top 50.
On the East Coast, New York-New Jersey’s 5.3 million TEUs was good enough to squeak into the Top 20, while 20 percent growth pushed Georgia’s ports to 42nd place, with 2.8 million TEUs.
Combined, Los Angeles-Long Beach’s 14.1 million TEUs would put the San Pedro ports fifth on the list, but with less than half Shanghai’s throughput.
Among the regions showing the greatest growth potential is resource-rich Africa, a new favorite among Chinese manufacturers in need of natural resources. Durban, the continent’s largest container port, handles the majority of South Africa’s container trade, came in at No. 30 with 12.2 percent growth. Likely to crack the list in the next year or two is the Moroccan port of Tangier-Med. Its throughput skyrocketed 64 percent to 2.1 million TEUs, with terminal operators APMT and Eurogate serving notice that the 4-year-old port will be a force in the European-Mediterranean region.