By Theo Notteboom
The figure shows the evolution of container throughput in the three main container port regions in China (i.e. Yangtze River Delta, Pearly River Delta and the Bohai Rim). We compare these volume dynamics with some key port systems in North America and Europe: the port system along the North American West Coast including ports such as Seattle/Tacoma, Vancouver, LA, Long Beach and Oakland; East coast ports such as Norfolk, Charleston, New York/New Jersey, Baltimore, Savannah and Halifax; the Hamburg-Le Havre port range consisting of key north-European container ports such as Rotterdam, Antwerp, Hamburg, Bremerhaven, Le Havre, Zeebrugge and Wilhelmshaven; and the West Mediterranean including Med ports in Spain, France, Italy and Malta, and Adriatic ports.
The Pearl River Delta (Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and many others) saw a spectacular growth in the 1990s and throughout the 2000s. In more recent years volume growth is slowing down. The most important container port region in the world even recorded a modest traffic decline of 0.7% in 2015 mainly as a result of the weaker performance of Hong Kong. Shenzhen is now the largest port in the Pearl River Delta, and even Guangzhou is fast closing in on Hong Kong.
The Yangtze River Delta recorded elevated annual growth rates of 15 to 40% before the economic crisis. Since 2011 container volumes increase by a much more modest 4 to 7% per annum. In 2015 growth reached 5.2% with Shanghai +3.4% and Ningbo +6% and slightly higher growth rates for river ports Nanjing and Suzhou. The Yangtze River Delta handled close to 65.2 million TEU in 2015 and is now just behind the Pearl River Delta which recorded a total throughput of 65.6 million TEU.
The Bohai Bay region in the Northeastern part of China is one of the fastest rising container regions in the world in recent years. In 2015 container traffic grew at 3% with growth in major ports Tianjin (+3.2), Qingdao (+5.3%) and most other medium-sized ports (such as Yingkou, Yantai, etc.), but a traffic decline of more than 8% in Dalian. Still, the Bohai bay region strengthened its position as the third most important container port region in the world handling 55.8 million TEU in 2015.
To put the container figures of these three Chinese port regions in perspective: the entire North American container port system handled about 50 million TEU in 2015 while the entire European container port system reached just over 100 million TEU in the same year.