Detailed PDF (first map, second map)
Source: American Association of Port Authorities, ECLAC (CEPAL).
Container Ports of the Americas, 2015
The maritime system of the Americas is composed of six major maritime ranges, each with its distinct freight distribution system and logistics:
  • East, West and Gulf Coasts of North America. This sub-system has three ranges (Pacific, Atlantic and Gulf), which are integrated through long distance rail corridors (landbridges). They account for about 55% of the TEUs handled by the Americas. Most of the gateways are within major port clusters such as Los Angeles / Long Beach, Vancouver / Seattle - Tacoma (SeaTac Alliance), Charleston / Savannah or New York / Hampton Roads. These clusters provide importers and exporters with shipping options and act as logistics platforms for continental freight distribution. While hinterland access is dependent on port proximity, the efficiency and capacity of rail transportation (e.g. double-stacking) provide higher levels of hinterland accessibility than any other range in the world. With the setting of NAFTA and the integration of its rail system (e.g. the acquisition by KCS of a rail corridor between Kansas City and Lazaro Cardenas), Mexico is increasingly considered as integrated with North American West and Gulf Coasts and thus part of the same ranges.
  • Caribbean. This range is mostly composed of small hinterlands, implying limited cargo volumes. The nature and extent of the traffic is related to the economic activities of each island. However, some countries have shown growth potential such as Cuba, Columbia, Costa Rica and Panama. This ranges accounts for about 20% of the TEUs handled by the Americas, but a large share of this traffic involves transshipment with the Panama Canal a fundamental driver of this business.
  • East and West Coasts of South America. This sub-system has two ranges that are not well integrated because of the difficulties of servicing their respective hinterland. It accounts for about 25% of the TEUs handled by the Americas. Inland rail connections tend to be poor or non-existent and when they are present they are simply penetration lines linking a gateway and a few inland load centers. Each coast is a completely different market and more than often each port is able to assert dominance over its hinterland since competition tends to be limited. Most ports are not directly connected to deepsea shipping lines but through coastal services to main transshipment hubs such as Santos, Buenos Aires or Callao.
A look at the net growth of containerized traffic at the maritime range and port levels reveals significant changes in recent years. While the North American East and West coasts remain the most salient ranges, handling an average of 29.5 and 22.1 million TEUs respectively in 2015, they have experienced no significant net growth in traffic between 2007 and 2012, a period that covers the 2008-09 financial crisis and its aftermath. Some ports, such as Los Angeles and Seattle, have actually experienced a net decline in traffic during that period. However, between the 2010 and 2015 period, it is East Coast ports that accounted for the most significant growth in the Americas, in part the outcome on relying more on the all-water route from Asia to service its ports, as well as the growth in the use of the Suez Canal. The Caribbean has experience less growth in recent years in part because of the stabilization of transshipment volumes in Panama and the decline of the Venezuelan economy. Growth in South American ranges is putting pressure on freight distribution systems, which need to develop better logistical capabilities. It also incites the development of economies of scale in maritime shipping since a growth in traffic can attract services by bigger, and thus more cost-effective ships. The outcome would be a reduction in transportation costs and improved trade facilitation. However, growth is far from uniform and has mostly benefited the largest ports in Latin America.