Hong Kong expected to drop to 10th place in ranking of busiest container ports

Hong Kong's Secretary for Transport and Logistics Lam Sai-hung has predicted the city will drop one spot to 10th in the rankings of the world’s busiest ports in terms of container throughput in 2023, with economists attributing the decline to competition from mainland China. The city has slipped in the rankings in recent years, falling gradually from No 3 in the world in 2008 to ninth between 2020 and 2022, according to the latest available data from the Marine Department.

Hong Kong’s container throughput in 2023 was 14.4 million TEU, lower than the 16.68 million TEU the city handled in 2022, and the 14.45 million TEU that year at the Dutch port of Rotterdam, which ranked No 10. “While some may focus on the declining trend, I believe it is crucial for us to seize the opportunity to consolidate and develop the advantages of Hong Kong’s port and this has also been the ongoing direction of the Transport and Logistics Bureau’s efforts,” Lam wrote. The 2023 world rankings for container ports was expected to be revealed in the middle of this year, he said. Since overtaking Singapore in 2010, the world’s top port in terms of container throughput has been Shanghai. Lam said the government had been enhancing the competitiveness of Hong Kong’s port, aiming to make it “green” and “smart”. Citing the government’s Maritime and Port Development Strategy Action Plan, he noted that measures included developing Hong Kong into “a quality green maritime fuel bunkering center”, as well as promoting the development of a “smart port” through the use of a digitalized port community system.

Simon Lee, Honorary Fellow at the Asia-Pacific Institute of Business at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said that the main cause for the city’s decline in its container throughput was competition from mainland ports in terms of cost and convenience. “Factories there can use Shanghai, Shenzhen, Ningbo instead of Hong Kong. It is hard to change the situation as, again, costs are high in Hong Kong,” he said. Lee noted that the government could only raise its rankings by one or two spots through reducing costs and increasing convenience for its users, but it would be extremely difficult as competition among ports was very keen.

Of the world’s top 10 ports in terms of throughput ranked by the Marine Department in 2022, six are on the mainland – Shanghai, Ningbo-Zhoushan, Shenzhen, Qingdao, Guangzhou and Tianjin. Professor Terence Chong, Executive Director of the Chinese University’s Lau Chor Tak Institute of Global Economics and Finance, agreed that costs presented an issue for the city when compared with the mainland. He added that the mainland also had more land available for expansion. “It would not be possible for our rankings to go back up, as we are constricted in terms of size, unless we decide to build a new port and several more berths,” Chong said. “As China and other countries will continuously build ports, there is not much point for us to compete in terms of throughput.” He suggested that authorities instead focus on the value of the cargo coming to the city instead of quantity, as well as the use of green and innovative technology to help Hong Kong stay competitive, the South China Morning Post reports.