For long distance trade, three main types of container flows are possible:
- Balanced. Container flows for exports and imports between two partners are almost similar. Thus, for each full container being unloaded, there is an opportunity for a backhaul movement. This situation is uncommon.
- Imbalanced. There are container flows in only one direction, implying that once a container has been emptied, the return leg is performed without carrying any load. Again, this situation is uncommon but can happen at the local or regional level.
- Hybrid. For various reasons, such as differences in the level of industrialization and development, container flows have a level of imbalance, which requires a specific market for the repositioning of empties. This situation is relatively common, particularly along the Asia-Europe and Transpacific routes.