Chinese Ports Report Growth in Cargo and Container Volumes in 2021

growth in cargo and containere volumes at China's ports
China's Yantian port was impacted by a COVID-19 outbreak in June, but overall volume continues to grow (Yantian port)

Published Aug 3, 2021 8:25 PM by The Maritime Executive

Much of the focus during the current surge in shipping volumes has been on the growth in import volumes at the ports in North America and Europe. Most of the volume is originating at Chinese ports and now Chinese officials gave a readout on the growth in cargo volumes during the first half of 2021.

China’s Ministry of Transport reports that cargo and container throughput volumes at China’s ports showed strong growth in the first half of the year. This comes despite disruptions in the supply chain including the blockage of the Suez Canal for six days in March after the Ever Given became stuck and the nearly month-long struggle at the southern ports and primarily Yantian due to a cluster of COVID-19 that impacted port operations. 

In the first six months, China’s ports handled 7.64 billion tons of cargo, up more than 13 percent over 2020. However, with exports severely impacted in the early part of 2020 as the virus forced lockdowns in China and around the globe, most of the growth came versus 2019. Sun Wenjian, spokesperson of the ministry reported that 2021’s volumes were just under 14 percent ahead of 2019.

The country’s container throughput at its export ports rose 15 percent year-on-year to 140 million TEU in 2021. This represented just under nine percent growth from the same period in 2019, Sun said.

Responding to the current pressures in the supply chain, Chinese officials said that the country is striving to increase shipping space and container supply to accommodate the increased demand. To ease container shortage and rapid increase of freight rates in the international shipping market, China reports that it has worked to substantially increase the shipping space by working with the major liner companies. The capacity on North America and Europe routes from China they reported surged by 55 percent and 30 percent respectively from the same period last year.

Chinese ministries have also coordinated with container manufacturers to increase output. Currently, the monthly production capacity has reached a record high of more than 500,000 TEUs. In June 2021, the shortage of empty containers in China’s major ports stood at 1.4 percent, down 12.2 percentage points from the beginning of the year, Sun said.

Concerns however being raised as China begins to experience a new surge in COVID-19 cases. The outbreak around Yantian in June caused utilization to fall to as low as 40 percent with portions of the port suspending operations as they worked to contain the spread of the virus among port employees. With the number of virus cases growing in other parts of China, there is a fear that it could again impact the manufacturing areas or spread to other ports.