Source: Seaborne trade data adapted from UNCTAD, Review of Maritime Transport.
Changes in Global Trade Flows
Prior to the 1970s, global trade flows were dominated by three major poles, North America, Western Europe and Pacific Asia (also known as the triad). A dichotomy was observed between developed and developing economies as raw materials were flowing north and finished goods were flowing south. This situation can mainly been explained by differences in levels of development as well as by unequal trade relations set during the colonial era.
From the 1970s, this situation changed as industrial development took place in many developing economies in Latin America (Mexico), Southeast Asia (Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia) and East Asia (China, South Korea, Taiwan). Many industrial processes which initially took place in developed economies, were relocated in new locations offering lower production costs, namely because of cheaper labor. Such a structural shift if well illustrated by the variation in the share of development economies in seaborne trade, which used to be highly imbalanced with much more cargo being loaded than unloaded. Economic development resulted in a growing share of developing economies as a destination for cargo. Consequently, global trade is now characterized by significant flows of cargoes (raw materials, intermediate and finished goods) from developed to developing economies.