World seaborne trade

Tonnage loaded and unloaded, 2019
a
Including the Russian Federation and the French overseas departments.
Find the data on UNCTADstat

Trends and geography of world seaborne trade

Growth in international maritime trade stalled in 2019, reaching its lowest rate since the global financial crisis of 2008–2009. Maritime trade volumes expanded by only 0.5 per cent in 2019, down from 2.8 per cent in 2018 to reach a total of 11.08 billion tons.

In line with Asian economies’ strong contribution to global trade (see on the Total merchandise trade page) and their high integration into global shipping networks (see on the Maritime transport indicators page), Asia is by far the largest seaborne trading region. In 2019, Asian seaports handled 4.5 billion tons of goods loaded, and 6.9 billion tons of goods unloaded. The other continents recorded much smaller volumes.

Of the 11.1 billion tons shipped internationally in 2019, 7.9 billion tons were dry cargo. Over time, dry cargo has expanded its share, now accounting for over two thirds of total maritime trade volumes.

Figure 1Goods loaded worldwide (Billions of tons)

Contribution of developing economies

In 2019, developing economies still accounted for the largest share of global seaborne trade, both in terms of exports and imports. They loaded 58 per cent and unloaded 65 per cent of the world total. With a volume of 4.3 billion tons loaded and 6.1 billion tons unloaded, Asian and Oceanian developing economies contributed most to that share. While developing economies remain the main maritime trade centres, the structure of their trade has changed. Since 2014, their share of world imports has exceeded their share of world exports.

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

Developments in seaborne trade balances

Developing economies’ declining contribution of seaborne trade exports and increasing contribution of seaborne trade imports is reflected in a steady decrease in their trade balance. Their balance changed from a surplus of 433 million tons in 2009 into a deficit of 49 million tons in 2014, which deepened to 776 million tons in 2019. This development was mainly driven by a widening of the deficit in Asian developing economies.

Over the last ten years, transition economies recorded a growth of their surplus from 412 to 614 million tons. For developed economies, a deficit of 820 million tons in 2009 has, over time, turned into a surplus of 155 million tons in 2019.1

1
For further analyses on that topic, see UNCTAD (2020d).
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)

2014

2019

2019

2014

2019

2019

2014

2019

Worlda

9 816

11 076

0.5

9 720

11 083

0.6

96

-7

Developing economies

5 881

6 425

-0.3

5 930

7 201

1.8

-49

-776

Developing economies: Africa

738

762

-0.1

445

504

0.5

293

258

Developing economies: America

1 301

1 386

0.1

572

622

-2.6

729

765

Developing economies: Asia and Oceania

3 842

4 276

-0.4

4 913

6 075

2.4

-1 071

-1 798

Transition economies

592

716

0.4

100

102

2.7

491

614

Developed economies

3 344

3 935

1.9

3 690

3 780

-1.7

-346

155

a
Annual world 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)

2014

2019

2019

2014

2019

2019

2014

2019

Worlda

1 712

1 860

-1.1

1 850

2 033

-0.8

-138

-173

Developing economies

1 438

1 423

-3.2

885

1 119

0.2

552

304

Developing economies: Africa

304

293

-1.3

37

39

0.5

267

254

Developing economies: America

233

204

1.8

65

48

1.6

167

156

Developing economies: Asia and Oceania

901

926

-4.9

783

1 032

0.1

118

-106

Transition economies

152

194

-4.9

0

1

151.5

152

193

Developed economies

122

243

17.8

964

914

-2.0

-843

-671

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.

Other tanker trade

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)

2014

2019

2019

2014

2019

2019

2014

2019

Worlda

1 122

1 308

-0.9

1 088

1 329

-0.7

34

-21

Developing economies

621

760

-1.8

565

851

1.5

57

-91

Developing economies: Africa

74

70

-0.8

71

99

-0.6

3

-29

Developing economies: America

76

82

-7.2

100

139

-7.0

-23

-57

Developing economies: Asia and Oceania

471

608

-1.2

394

613

4.0

77

-5

Transition economies

37

41

9.3

4

5

12.8

33

36

Developed economies

463

507

-0.1

519

473

-4.5

-55

34

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)

2014

2019

2019

2014

2019

2019

2014

2019

Worlda

6 983

7 907

1.1

6 782

7 720

1.2

201

187

Developing economies

3 822

4 241

1.0

4 480

5 230

2.2

-658

-989

Developing economies: Africa

359

399

0.9

337

366

0.8

22

33

Developing economies: America

992

1 100

0.3

407

435

-1.5

585

665

Developing economies: Asia and Oceania

2 470

2 743

1.3

3 736

4 429

2.7

-1 265

-1 687

Transition economies

403

481

2.0

96

96

1.6

307

385

Developed economies

2 758

3 185

1.2

2 207

2 394

-1.0

552

791

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

Other tanker trade

Dry cargo

1974

3 304

1 497

335

1 472

1979

3 828

1 725

318

1 785

1984

3 364

1 079

399

1 886

1989

3 940

1 260

468

2 212

1994

4 485

1 498

509

2 478

1999

5 683

1 553

532

3 598

2004

6 758

1 770

546

4 442

2009

7 818

1 710

931

5 177

2014

9 816

1 712

1 122

6 983

2019

11 076

1 860

1 308

7 907