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Ranking Ports

Region’s share of global container business

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World merchandise trade, especially in containerised form, has outpaced world gross national product changes over the past 20 years. 

In 2010, for example, Latin American and Caribbean ports handled approximately 47 million teu, representing about 9% of world container throughput. In that same year, total global throughput was estimated at 546 million teu, of which the Far East and South East Asia accounted for over 50%. Western Europe accounted for about 90 million teu and North America just under 50 million.

20 million containers

During that period, about 20 million containers (4% of world throughput) were handled in countries bordering the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico. In our view, the figures for Latin America and the Caribbean identified a misconception and a distorted view of the real Caribbean numbers. The Caribbean micro states, for example, account for less than 10% of total volume. The maximum capacity of the ports of Kingston, Freeport and Caucedo is 5.55 million, representing about 12% of the total 47 million teu moved by Latin America and the Caribbean. In reality, these three ports moved just over 3.5 million teu or 7% of the total 47 million teu moved. 


In 2011 world container port throughput increased by an estimated 5.9% from 544.16 million to 572.8 million teu. This was its highest level ever. The increase was lower than the 14.5% increase in 2010, which was a sharp rebound from the slump of 2009. Chinese mainland ports maintained their share of total world container throughput at 24.2%. UNCTAD’s Liner Shipping Connectivity Index (LSCI) showed a continuation in 2012 of the trend towards larger ships deployed by a smaller number of companies. Between 2011 and 2012 the number of companies providing services per country fell by 4.5%, while the average size of the largest containerships grew by 11.5%. 

Shipping connections

Only 17.7% of country pairs are served by direct liner shipping connections. For the remaining country pairs, at least one transshipment port is required.

In 2010 the teu throughput for developing economies grew by an estimated 15.8% to 376.7 million. This growth was a turnaround from the sharp decline of the previous year as businesses reduced their inventories in reaction to the global economic crisis. The growth rate for container throughput in developing economies for 2011 was estimated at 6.8%, signifying a return to previous year-on-year growth levels. 


Developing economies retained their 70% share of world throughput. Of the 75 developing economies and economies in transition, only 10 experienced ‘negative growth’ in port throughput in 2010. This would suggest that container ports are feeling no sustained effects from the global economic crisis. Of the top 10 developing countries (and countries in transition), nine are located in Asia. Sixteen of the top 20 countries are in Asia, two are in Central and South America and two in Africa. Note the dominance of Asia in container port producing exports.

Latin America and Caribbean in world container throughput

In 2011 ports in Latin America and the Caribbean handled 41.3 million teu, up 11.1% from 2010. Despite growth, the region continued to account for about 7% of the world total as Table 1 indicates.

In 2011, Asia (excluding China) led world container traffic with a 31.1% share, or 175 million teu; followed by China, with 29.1% (164 million teu); and northern Europe, with 11% (62 million teu). 

Asia (including China) accounted for over 60% of the world’s container port traffic, followed by Europe with 18.2%F. 


Of the 41,317 teu, the Caribbean accounted for 13% or 5,470 teu. Of that total, 4,390 teu were transshipment. In effect, the Caribbean accounts for 3.67% of the total Latin America and Caribbean figure. 

The notion of Latin America and the Caribbean having the fastest growth rate in the world does not reflect the true situation. When the transshipment number is discounted, the Caribbean figure shows a decline of 15.9% (see Table 3). This questions the validity of grouping Latin America and the Caribbean, as multilateral agencies have done, on the basis of convenience and proximity. The Caribbean economy is service-based, depending primarily on tourism. Latin American national economies, on the other hand, are far more diversified.

Kingston has maintained its position as the Caribbean’s number one transshipment port for all the years between 2008 and 2011. The figures reported include the combined total for Kingston Container Terminal (KCT), the principal Caribbean transshipment port, and Kingston Wharves Limited (KWL), the Caribbean’s leading regional transshipment port. The figure for Kingston showed a decline of 7.1%, reflecting primarily activities at KCT and not KWL. So, while the overall figure for Latin America and the Caribbean increased by 11.1% over 2010 figures, the Caribbean showed an inverse position, whereby the decline peaked at 15.9% for 2010 to 2011.