Source: American Association of Port Authorities.
(Detailed PDF Map)
World's Major Ports, 2013
The position of Rotterdam as the world's largest port was unparalleled for decades, a rank it held until 2000. Then, it was overtaken by Shanghai, Singapore and Tianjin; a large share of the word's major ports is now in East Asia. The main factors behind this shift are linked with export-oriented strategies which concomitantly involve in increase in export throughputs, but also imports of parts, energy and raw materials to supply urbanization and industrialization. The geography of world's major ports, as measured in tonnage, obviously share some commonality with traffic figures measured in TEU, but very large port facilities are found in areas that have limited commercial activity. Two general patterns are observed:
  • Major commercial gateways (polyfunctional ports) that are clustered around East Asia and the European northern range. Although many are large industrial and manufacturing complexes generating large quantities of bulk cargo, they are also major centers of containerized trade. They tend to have a high value to weight ratio.
  • Resource ports (monofunctional ports) that are in different clusters than main commercial gateways since the majority of them do not handle significant container traffic. Of particular relevance are Australian, Brazilian and American Gulf Coast ports that are linked with mineral, petrochemical and grain trade. They have a low value to weight ratio.
For instance, Port Hedland in northwestern Australia is the world's largest exporter of iron ore, handled 372 million tons of cargo in 2013, more than three times the amount handled by Los Angeles / Long Beach (129 million tons), the largest commercial gateway of North America.