Global Merchandise Exports and Container Throughput, 1980-2017

Global Merchandise Exports and Container Throughput, 1980-2017

Source: World Bank and Drewry Shipping Consultants.

There is a high correlation between global merchandise exports and global container throughput (R square of 0.97). Although this relation is proportional, there are fluctuations in this proportionality.

  • Prior to the mid-1990s, the residuals (the difference between the curve and the exports/throughput observation) were negative, implying a lower relation between throughput and exports than the average. The globalization of production was ongoing but tended to involve more regional trade agreements (e.g. NAFTA and EU) relying on non-containerized freight flows over shorter distances. Still, the growth of container flows was robust. Most of the long-distance container trade flows were transatlantic, but with a growth of transpacific flows (Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan).
  • In the mid-1990s up to the late 2000s, the residuals became positive, implying an exports/throughput relation higher than the average. This was particularly linked with the contribution of export-oriented economies such as China using the benefits of containerization to access global markets. Trade and container volumes increased sharply. The development of transshipment hubs also played a role in the higher relation between throughput and exports than the average.
  • Between 2008 and 2010 the relation between exports and container volumes was subject to significant volatility, particularly between 2008 and 2009 where both exports and container volumes dropped significantly.
  • Since 2011 the relationship between exports and throughput appears to be resuming as the residuals went from negative to positive.