Most commonly transported goods by sea

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Globalization is more present than ever before. A trip to any department store, boutique, or supermarket reveals goods produced thousands of miles away. 

Commodities are imported by train, plane, or car, but the global shipping industry is responsible for carrying around 90% of world trade. 

So, what are these mega cargo ships arriving into the busiest ports in the US carrying?

 Let’s take a look.

Some facts and figures

It may be surprising to know that the most common commodities shipped to the US range from bananas to building materials to furniture and everything in between. However, it’s not such a surprise since, according to the US Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration, nearly 90% of everything bought in the US arrives by sea.

This fact gives us an excellent indication as to the importance of shipping. The continued expansion of seaborne trade brings consumers benefits through several factors, including competitive freight costs, improved efficiency of shipping as a means of transport, increasing economic liberalization, and the continued prospects of strong growth for the industry -despite turmoil between the US and its trading partners especially China.

More than 50,000 commercial ships are trading internationally, transporting every type of cargo. The global fleet is registered in 150 countries and staffed more than a million seafarers of almost every population.

Ships are technologically high-value, sophisticated assets (it can cost more than US$200 million to build a sizable hi-tech Vessels). Commercial ships’ operation generates an annual estimated income of more than a half-trillion US dollars in freight tariffs. 

What's onboard?

  • Produce 

Thanks to international shipments, no matter the season, the US and many other countries receive a continuous supply of fresh veggies and fruits – particularly bananas, which by weight account for about 3,000 metric tons of annual cargo.

  • Furniture and furniture parts 

 Also an all-season favorite commodity that accounts for about 5,000 metric tons of cargo shipped annually. Demand continues to increase.

  • Cars parts and cars 

No surprise that these are in high demand. In the US, foreign cars outnumber local brands and account for 7,000 metric tons of cargo a year.

  • Electronics 

Those shipping boxes on freight ships are filled with electronic devices, including TVs, computers, and smartphones. Interestingly, electronics companies preferred air shipping, but are now turning to cargo ships due to the shipping industry’s increased reliability and speed.  

  • Clothes 

When you visualize that “Made in China” tag, you probably picture it on a clothing label. No surprise, as a tremendous amount of container space on cargo ships is reserved for apparel and accessories. These categories have tremendously high container values. Interestingly, compared with heavy machinery, clothing brings more value yet weighs less, making it especially attractive tor companies looking for low-cost shipping.

  • Other 

Sports equipment and toys ($23 million vessel value annually), mineral fuel, machinery and parts, iron and steel (export; $23 million spent on shipping from the US).

Who is on board?

Data from PIERS shows that through much of 2018, overall US import volume rose 7.1 % to 24.7 million TEU (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units), while exports were flat at 12.7 million TEU.

Walmart remained the most extensive US importer on the top 100 list by volume and is approaching one million-TEU, moving over 7.3X the capacity of Amazon that ranked 12.

The leading retail importers, Walmart, Target, Home Depot, and Lowe’s collectively imported nearly 2.3 million TEU, accounting for almost one out of every 10 US import TEU.

In sum

In recent years, the volume of world trade carried by sea has steadily begun to grow. Since shipping is the most carbon-friendly, fuel-efficient form of commercial transport, an even more significant percentage of world trade will be carried by sea in the long-term.

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