World seaborne trade

Map 1. Tonnage loaded and discharged, 2020
Note: Europe includes the Russian Federation and the French overseas departments.

Trends and geography of world seaborne trade in 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic weighed on international maritime trade while disrupting operations and causing supply chain pressures. The volume of maritime trade slumped by 3.8 per cent in 2020 to a total of 10.6 billion metric tons.

The predominance of Asia as a leading maritime freight area continued unabated. In 2020, Asian ports, including developed and developing regions, loaded around 4.4 billion tons of goods, amounting to over 41.3 per cent of total goods loaded in ports worldwide. About 7.0 billion tons, equivalent to 65.5 per cent of total goods discharged worldwide, were received by Asian ports in 2020.

Of the total freight shipped internationally in 2020, 7.7 billion tons, or 72 per cent, was dry cargo. Over time, dry cargo has expanded its share, now accounting for nearly three quarters of total maritime trade volumes. A decade ago, this share was closer to two thirds.

Figure 1. Goods loaded worldwide
(Billions of tons)

Contribution of developing economies

Figure 2. Seaborne trade of developing economies
(Percentage of corresponding world tonnage)

In 2020, developing economies still accounted for the largest share of global seaborne trade, both in terms of exports and imports. They loaded 59.5 per cent and discharged 69.5 per cent of the world total. Asian and Oceanian developing economies contributed most to those shares. While developing economies remain the main maritime trade centres, the structure of their trade has changed over the years with their share of world seaborne imports increasingly surpassing their share of exports since 2013.

Developments in seaborne trade balances

The structural shift in the composition of economies’ maritime trade and total imports and exports is reflected in the widening maritime trade deficit for developing economies and surplus for developed economies. Developing economies loaded 401 million tons more goods in 2010 than they discharged. This compared to a deficit of 149 million tons in 2015, which deepened to 1 055 million tons in 2020. This development was mainly driven by a widening deficit in Asian developing economies. Much of the deficit increase in 2020 reflects the active role of Eastern Asia and especially continued import demand in China. On the other hand, the surplus for developed economies increased in 2020, expressing a decline in import demand largely induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, among other issues.1

Figure 3. Seaborne trade balance
(Millions of tons)

Concepts and definitions

The figures on seaborne trade in this section measure the volumes of international shipments, in metric tons, of goods loaded and discharged in the world’s seaports. Cabotage and transshipments are not included.

Goods loaded for international shipment are assumed to be exports, while goods discharged from ships are assumed to be imports. The seaborne trade balance measures the difference between the volumes of loaded and discharged goods.

Dry cargo refers to cargo that is usually not carried in tankers, such as dry bulks (e.g., coal, ores, grains), pallets, bags, crates, and containers. “Other” tanker trade refers to tanker trade, excluding crude oil. It includes refined petroleum products, gas and chemicals.

The data presented in this section have been compiled from various sources, including country reports as well as port industry and other specialist websites -—
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Summary tables

Table 1. Total seaborne trade by group of economies
    Table 2. Seaborne trade by cargo type and group of economies
    Crude oil
      Other tanker trade
        Dry cargo
          Table 3. Development of goods loaded worldwide by type of cargo
          (Millions of tons)

            Notes

            1. For further analyses on that topic, see -—
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            References

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