World seaborne trade

International seaborne trade gathered momentum: +4.0% in 2017
4.4 out of 10.7 billion tons of goods loaded in Asian seaports
Developing economies’ share of global goods unloaded rose to 63% in 2017
Trade surplus in transition economies almost doubled in 10 years
Tonnage loaded and unloaded, 2017(Billions of tons)
Map tonnage loaded and unloaded, 2017
a
Incl. the Russian Federation and the French overseas departments.
Find the data on UNCTADstat

Trends and geography of world seaborne trade

International seaborne trade gathered momentum in 2017, with volumes expanding by 4.0 per cent. This was the fastest growth in the last five years.

In 2017, 10.7 billion tons of goods were loaded worldwide; 1.5 billion tons more than in 2012. Loading of dry cargo alone increased by 1.2 billion tons; crude oil, petroleum products and gas contributed the remaining 305 million tons to the overall increase.

Asia was by far the largest trading region. In 2017, 4.4 billion tons of goods were loaded, and 6.5 billion tons unloaded, in Asian seaports. The other continents registered less than half of these amounts. The volumes of goods delivered to ports in Oceania were, at less than 200 million tons, particularly small.

Figure 1Goods loaded worldwide (Billions of tons)

Contribution of developing economies

Developing economies continue to make a major contribution to global seaborne trade. They account for almost two thirds of goods loaded and unloaded worldwide. Their share in seaborne trade imports, as measured by goods unloaded, has steadily increased over the last ten years, to reach 63 per cent in 2017. This trend has been driven strongly by developing economies in Asia. In developing economies of Asia and Oceania, about one quarter more goods were unloaded in 2017 than in 2012.

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

Developments in seaborne trade balances

In 2014, developing economies turned from net exporters into net importers of seaborne trade volumes. By 2017, they developed a deficit of 400 million tons, as compared to a surplus of 190 million tons in 2012. These figures, however, hide considerable differences across continents. Unlike developing economies in Asia and Oceania, and consistent with past trends, developing economies in America and Africa continued running significant surpluses in 2017.

Transition economies have almost doubled their surplus over the last ten years, reaching 599 million tons in 2017. In developed economies, the deficit of 1.4 billion tons in 2007 almost vanished by 20171.

1
For further analyses on that topic, see UNCTAD (2018c).
Figure 3Seaborne trade balance (Millions of tons)

Summary tables

Table 1

Total seaborne trade by group of economies

Group of economies

Loaded

Unloaded

Balance

Volume

Annual growth rate

Volume

Annual growth rate

Volume

(Millions of tons)

(Percentage)

(Millions of tons)

(Percentage)

(Millions of tons)

2012

2017

2017

2012

2017

2017

2012

2017

Worlda

9 197

10 702

4.0

9 188

10 666

3.8

8

36

Developing economies

5 530

6 362

3.3

5 340

6 762

6.0

189

-399

Developing economies: Africa

758

726

4.8

394

500

1.4

364

226

Developing economies: America

1 283

1 379

3.2

547

608

7.5

736

771

Developing economies: Asia and Oceania

3 489

4 257

3.1

4 400

5 654

6.2

-911

-1 397

Transition economies

544

665

4.3

148

66

10.6

396

599

Developed economies

3 123

3 675

5.2

3 700

3 838

-0.1

-577

-163

a
Annual totals of goods loaded and unloaded are not necessarily the same, given that goods loaded in one calendar year may reach their port of destination in the next calendar year.
Find the data on UNCTADstat
Table 2

Seaborne trade by cargo type and group of economies

Crude oil

Group of economies

Loaded

Unloaded

Balance

Volume

Annual growth rate

Volume

Annual growth rate

Volume

(Millions of tons)

(Percentage)

(Millions of tons)

(Percentage)

(Millions of tons)

2012

2017

2017

2012

2017

2017

2012

2017

Worlda

1 786

1 875

2.4

1 930

2 035

2.3

-144

-160

Developing economies

1 525

1 522

1.1

833

1 077

9.0

692

444

Developing economies: Africa

364

288

6.1

33

34

-12.3

331

254

Developing economies: America

253

227

-2.2

75

55

5.3

179

173

Developing economies: Asia and Oceania

907

1 006

0.6

726

989

10.1

182

18

Transition economies

136

191

8.1

4

1

161.3

132

190

Developed economies

125

163

8.0

1 093

957

-4.4

-967

-794

a
Annual totals of goods loaded and unloaded are not necessarily the same, given that goods loaded in one calendar year may reach their port of destination in the next calendar year.

Petroleum product and gas

Group of economies

Loaded

Unloaded

Balance

Volume

Annual growth rate

Volume

Annual growth rate

Volume

(Millions of tons)

(Percentage)

(Millions of tons)

(Percentage)

(Millions of tons)

2012

2017

2017

2012

2017

2017

2012

2017

Worlda

1 055

1 271

3.9

1 055

1 282

3.7

0

-10

Developing economies

555

745

1.9

495

769

6.2

60

-24

Developing economies: Africa

70

60

2.1

51

90

11.9

19

-30

Developing economies: America

86

72

-5.3

84

142

10.6

2

-70

Developing economies: Asia and Oceania

399

613

2.8

360

537

4.2

39

76

Transition economies

40

48

19.9

4

3

-13.8

36

45

Developed economies

460

478

5.6

556

509

0.3

-97

-31

a
Annual totals of goods loaded and unloaded are not necessarily the same, given that goods loaded in one calendar year may reach their port of destination in the next calendar year.

Dry cargo

Group of economies

Loaded

Unloaded

Balance

Volume

Annual growth rate

Volume

Annual growth rate

Volume

(Millions of tons)

(Percentage)

(Millions of tons)

(Percentage)

(Millions of tons)

2012

2017

2017

2012

2017

2017

2012

2017

Worlda

6 356

7 556

4.5

6 204

7 349

4.2

152

207

Developing economies

3 450

4 096

4.4

4 012

4 915

5.3

-563

-819

Developing economies: Africa

323

378

4.3

310

375

0.5

14

3

Developing economies: America

943

1 080

5.0

389

412

6.7

555

668

Developing economies: Asia and Oceania

2 183

2 638

4.2

3 314

4 128

5.6

-1 131

-1 490

Transition economies

368

426

1.2

140

62

11.5

228

364

Developed economies

2 538

3 034

5.0

2 051

2 373

1.8

487

662

a
Annual totals of goods loaded and unloaded are not necessarily the same, given that goods loaded in one calendar year may reach their port of destination in the next calendar year.
Table 3

Development of goods loaded worldwide by type of cargo

(Millions of tons)

Year

Total goods

Crude oil

Petroleum product and gas

Dry cargo

1972

2 874

1 321

332

1 221

1977

3 468

1 599

293

1 576

1982

3 273

1 163

350

1 760

1987

3 505

1 107

441

1 987

1992

4 220

1 394

466

2 360

1997

4 953

1 626

546

2 781

2002

6 127

1 637

509

3 981

2007

8 034

1 813

934

5 287

2012

9 197

1 786

1 055

6 356

2017

10 702

1 875

1 271

7 556