Since the 1990s the growth of transpacific trade has substantially impacted port dynamics around the Panama Canal. Most of the growth took place within Panama and based on three vectors of maritime connectivity. The first is the connectivity provided by the Panama Canal, allowing the continuity of deep-sea maritime shipping services. The second and third vectors of connectivity relate to the transshipment functions performed on both the Pacific and Caribbean facades on the canal.
In the 20th century, the Colon port cluster used to be the main center of activity, but mostly as a domestic port servicing the Colon Free Trade Zone. However, in the early 2000s, the growth of transshipment cargoes allowed the setting of Balboa as a new hub, which grew on par with Colon to become the two most important transshipment hubs in the region. The expansion of the Panama Canal in 2016 allowed the Colon cluster to grow at a faster rate.
Transshipment activity is not only consigned to Panama as neighboring ports also compete for the business. Cartagena was able to become a major transshipment hub in the late 2000s, in part due to its accessibility to the Caribbean market and its own national market. Other main ports, such as Buenaventura and Puerto Limon (Limon Moin) grew organically with the dynamism of their hinterlands but can offer transshipment opportunities.