China’s ports handle 100 million TEUs

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Nov. 29 – The number of container units (TEUs) handled by mainland ports this year hit 100 million yesterday.

“China’s container transportation has reached world levels both in handling efficiency and building networks, greatly contributing to the prosperous shipping industries of Northeast Asia and the world,” Xu Zuyuan, vice-minister of communications, said yesterday at a ceremony in Tianjin Port held to celebrate the milestone.

To date, one of every two containers traveling along shipping lines in the Pacific is from China, with the country also manufacturing 90 percent of the world’s containers, he said.

According to China Daily, throughput of cargo and containers at Chinese ports has been the largest in the world for the past five years, with an annual growth rate of 35 percent.

China has come a long way since September 1973 when the first overseas container reached the mainland at Tianjin Port, which later set up the country’s first container berth in 1980. The 90s saw rapid growth in the container transportation industry, and in 2002 China overtook the United States to become the world’s top handler of containers.

Last year, the country handled 5.6 billion tons of cargo and 93 million TEUs. Twelve ports recorded cargo throughput of more than 100 million tons, with Shanghai handling 530 million tons, making it the world’s busiest port.

Song Dexing, director of the ministry’s water transport department, told China Daily that water transportation accounts for more than 90 percent of foreign trade cargo delivery, including 95 percent of imported crude oil and 99 percent of imported iron ore.

However, if China wants to realize its goal of moving significant manufacturing away from the developed coastal regions towards the central regions, Beijing will have to address some serious flaws in its transportation infrastructure.

Currently, all container traffic inland must either rely on China’s rail network or river systems to move products to the coastal ports. As we pointed out last year in the November issue of China Briefing, that is not an inexpensive endeavor as the shipping coompanies that handle China’s rail and river networks have a monopoly, forcing prices up and quality of service down.

Until these logistics issues are resolved, don’t expect for the central or western provinces to see significant increases in container traffic the way the coastal provinces have.

As Song said, “The container industry must move away from traditional transportation and toward comprehensive logistics and service industries.”