World Container Throughput, 1980-2022

World Container Throughput 1980 2022

Source: Drewry Shipping Consultants/UNCTAD.

Container throughput includes full and empty containers that respectively account for 80% and 20% of the maritime traffic. The large-scale adoption of the container and globalization consistently drove global container port growth rates between 5% and 10% from the 1980s to the 2000s. Then, in the 2010s, growth rates steadily declined as global trade headed toward a phase of maturity. Throughput grew from 36 million TEU in 1980 to 237 million TEU in 2000, 545 million TEU in 2010, and more than 740 million TEU in 2017. A core driver of the traffic surge in the 2000s was the rapid industrialization of China, in part due to the offshoring and outsourcing of manufacturing processes from multinational corporations.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, global container throughput reached approximately 802 million TEU in 2019, increasing by 2.3% compared to 2018. Similar to the financial crisis of 2008-09, the pandemic represented one of the only two events when growth went negative. In both cases, the decline was associated with a drop in discretionary spending, which was more lasting and significant during the 2008-09 financial crisis, but with a strong recovery in the subsequent year. In 2021, container traffic resumed its growth to reach 849 million TEUs after concerted stimulus packages. However, as of 2022, container throughput has experienced its lowest positive growth rate in more than 40 years.