Source: MDS Transmodal, World Cargo Database. Note: Groups are at the SITC 2 digits level.
It is estimated that in 2015, 135.5 million TEU of trade was carried in containers, compared to 88.5 million TEU in 2005. The composition of global containerized trade shows an extensive diversity of the goods being carried, with no particular category (SITC 2 digit level) dominating. The four most important categories accounted for 20.6% of the containerized trade volumes in 2015:
- Miscellaneous manufactures (SITC 89) include articles made of plastics (e.g. bags), toys, sporting goods or office supplies. The manufacturing of these goods has been highly impacted by outsourcing and offshoring since it tends to require significant labor input.
- Electrical machinery (SITC 77) includes machines powered by electricity, such as electric cables, appliances, batteries, and integrated circuits. The production of these goods has also been substantially internationalized, particularly for electronics.
- Vegetables and fruits (SITC 05) compose an important segment of transportation by refrigerated containers. This sector has been the object of notable growth with more reliable cold chain logistics.
- Textiles and made-up articles (SITC 65) include yarn, any woven fiber, blankets, linen, curtains, and carpets. The textile industry has been the object of internationalization for several decades.
The 20 most important categories accounted for 64.6% of the global containerized trade, underlining that the container has been used to carry any possible good that could be fitted in. However, many of the most significant categories of containerized trade are the outcome of comparative advantage factors, namely labor, that can be temporary and subject to change. If these advantages were to shift because of technological changes (e.g. automation), then a notable share of the containerized trade could be impacted.