Source: data collected from port authorities and regional port associations. Only considers ports with traffic above 500,000 TEU.
Container ports are reflective of the world’s commercial geography, particularly since they dominantly handle finished and intermediate goods. Commodities are becoming more prevalent but remain a niche market. Prior to the 1990s, the world’s most important ports were North American (e.g. New York) and Western European (e.g. Rotterdam). Globalization, supported by containerization, completely changed the world’s commercial geography with the emergence of new port locations reflecting changes in the global geography of production, distribution, and consumption. This geography indicates a high level of traffic concentration around large port facilities, notably Pacific Asian ports along the Tokyo – Singapore corridor. The 25 largest ports account for 49.8% of the traffic.
As export-oriented economic development strategies took shape, the number of containers handled in Pacific Asian ports, notably Chinese ports, surged. The comparative size of ports requires caution as several ports can be considered more statistical agglomerations than functional entities. For instance, the port of Shenzhen in the Pearl River Delta is composed of several large port facilities (e.g. Yantian, Chiwan, Shekou) that act as distinct entities within their operations and are even servicing different hinterlands. The same observation applies to Guangzhou and Shanghai that are multiport (and multi-terminal) entities.