Top 5: Most Efficient Asian Ports in 2024

How will the busiest ports in Asia perform in 2024? 

The notorious Opium Wars of the mid-19th century were not in fact about opium! They were about the importance of Asian ports.

The more foresighted colonial administrators in Asia had noted the huge production potential of the continent—especially that of China—and wanted to secure the rights to tariff-free trade across various Asian ports for Western merchants. The sale of opium cultivated in British India to the Chinese was only a secondary objective to offset the trade deficit between China and Britain.

The handover of Hong Kong in 1997 signalled the end of European colonial power in Asia.

And today, China’s main exports are no longer tea, porcelain, and silk, but rather industrially-manufactured goods.

And the sale of opium is no longer (officially) an option in the management of the foreign trade deficit!

But the importance of Asian ports in the world economy has not changed.

Over 60% of all goods and industrial products sold in markets across the world—including over half of all automobiles—have been shipped from a port in Asia.

The following Asian ports are among the most critical chokepoints for global trade, which will likely be part of the supply chain of many businesses in 2024.

Port of Shanghai (China)

Located near the mouth of the Yangtze river delta, the Port of Shanghai is a hybrid port complex, incorporating a river port and a deep-sea port. Since overtaking the Port of Singapore in 2010, it has been the world’s number one shipping hub.

It has grown to the size of a megacity over the past decade.

Having handled just under 45 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) in 2023, the Port of Shanghai has remained unquestionably the busiest seaport in the world.

The port will automate and digitalize the management of some of its terminals in 2024.

The South China Morning Post has reported that the “Shanghai port operator aims to expand capacity of its automated terminal at Yangshan and help shippers reduce waiting time and costs,” in a move expected to further expand efficiency and capacity.

Port of Singapore (Singapore)
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Lying on the east bank of the southern entrance to the Strait of Singapore, the Port of Singapore was for decades the busiest seaport in the world and its leading transshipment hub.

This distinction has turned Singapore, with its population of five million, into one of the most prosperous sovereign nations in history, with a per capita GDP of over USD72,000.

With container traffic of roughly 38 million TEUs, the Port of Singapore is among the busiest in the world.

To put things in perspective, it is twice as busy as the largest port in North America (the Port of Los Angeles) and almost three times as busy as Europe’s largest port, the Port of Rotterdam.

The year 2023 marked a high point in the history of the Port of Singapore.

On December 27, 2023, the port surpassed the unprecedented annual gross tonnage of three billion to consolidate its position as a leading maritime hub.

Port of Busan (South Korea)
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Having evolved from a small regional harbor in the southeast of South Korea into a massive seaport overlooking the Korean Strait, the Port of Busan is the jewel of the crown of the Korean economy. Almost all exports of South Korea’s mighty industrial base make their way to the rest of the world through the Port of Busan.

The port registered an estimated—and undoubtedly impressive—total throughput of 23 million TEUs in 2023, making it one of the leading ports on earth.

This becomes more impressive when we note that unlike most other ports on this list, the Port of Busan is rarely used as a transshipment hub; the port’s throughput is almost exclusively the exports and imports of the Republic of Korea.

Port Klang (Malaysia)
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Some 40 kilometers southwest of the capital Kuala Lumpur, Port Klang is the busiest port of Malaysia and also the second largest across the Strait of Malacca after the Port of Singapore. It is considered to be a key stop along the so-called maritime Silk Road.

With the handling capacity of 14 million TEUs, Malaysia’s Port Klang had an identical container traffic to the famous port of Jebel Ali in the UAE in 2023.

Indeed, Port Klang’s throughput is so massive that, at times, the capacity of roads linking the terminals to Kuala Lumpur fail to keep pace with the volume of cargo.

The Malaysian Ministry of Work and the Ministry of Transport have jointly announced that they “will focus on the efforts to channel the allocation of RM50 million for the maintenance of federal roads frequently used by heavy vehicles in Port Klang, Selangor, next year,” according to the Malay Mail.

Laem Chabang Port (Thailand)
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Also in the ASEAN region is the port of Laem Chabang, which is situated deep within the Bay of Bangkok. Although it was established relatively recently (1991), Laem Chabang has experienced rapid growth, becoming the largest seaport in Thailand.

Thailand’s Laem Chabang finished 2023 with an all-time high container throughput of 9 million. This figure will grow further by the completion of the ongoing Phase 3 development project of the port of Laem Chabang.

“The ongoing Phase 3 of the Laem Chabang Development Project is key to its expansion and includes vital enhancements in infrastructure, such as road, rail, and sea transportation systems,” reported Thailand’s The Nation. The infrastructure development also entails “the establishment of a Single Rail Transfer Operator (SRTO) cargo transfer centre within the port.”

As Thailand is poised to achieve an economic growth of 3.6% in 2024, up from 2.7% in 2023, mainly through exports and tourism, according to the IMF, the role of the Laem Chabang port will be more critical than ever in the Thai economy in 2024.