Review of Maritime Transport 2023: Facts and Figures on Latin America and the Caribbean

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Review of Maritime Transport 2023: Facts and Figures on Latin America and the Caribbean

Geneva, Switzerland, 27 September 2023

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) today published its Review of Maritime Transport 2023, which highlights the following facts and figures on Latin America and the Caribbean:

Maritime trade

  • Latin America saw a reduction of almost 6 percentage points in container volumes in 2020 compared with 2019. By the end of 2022, the gap had narrowed – but the total was still below the levels of 2019.
  • The Caribbean coast of Panama recovered more quickly and showed better results in exports (+15% exports vs. -15% exports) in 2022 when compared with 2019, while the Pacific coast of Panama experienced a 14% increase in imports against an 11% decline in exports.
  • South-South trade such as that from Africa to Latin America and the Caribbean contributed 12.5% to global containerized trade in 2022.
  • Wheat shipments from Argentina have been directed to Ethiopia, replacing the loss of wheat supply from the Russian Federation and Ukraine.
  • As companies diversify their supply sources and reduce overdependence on China, Mexico’s share of imports into the United States has been growing.

Shipping fleet

  • In 2022, among the top three flag registration states, Panama continued to lead in the number of vessels, commercial value and gross tonnage of its fleet. However, the Liberian register has surpassed Panama in terms of dead weight tons.
  • In terms of number of ships, Panama takes first place with 8,174 Panama-flagged vessels, 7.8% of the world fleet. Measured by dead weight tons, Panama takes second place after Liberia. The Panama-flagged fleet has 365 million dead weight tons, 16.1% of the global fleet.
  • The Panama ship registry recorded a 4.2% growth in dead weight tons between 2022 and 2023, but this was dwarfed by Liberia’s 12.7% growth.
  • When measured by value, Panama has the largest share of vessels registered, at 12.86%, just ahead of Liberia at 11.78%.
  • The Bahamas ship registry is the eighth largest flag in the world, with a fleet of 1,274 vessels totalling 72.6 million dead weight tons. Although the Bahamas flag saw a decline of 0.9% between 2022 and 2023, the total dead weight tons still represented 3.2% of the world fleet.
  • In terms of vessel value, the Bahamas flag is in fourth place, with a 7.44% share of the world fleet.
  • Brazil is the largest ship-owning country in South America. In terms of the world fleet, it is at number 29 on the list, with 382 vessels totalling 14.28 million dead weight tonnes. This represents 1.45% of the global fleet.
  • In 2022, ships flying the flags of Panama, Liberia and the Marshall Islands (the world’s three leading flags by tonnage and number of vessels) accounted for more than one third of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
  • Panama-flagged vessels are responsible for the second highest volume of CO2 emissions from ships, when purely measured by main flags of registration.
  • When CO2 emissions are measured by main countries of ship ownership, Latin American and Caribbean countries (LAC) do not feature on the list.

Maritime transport performance

  • By the second quarter of 2023, regional averages for the Liner Shipping Connectivity Index (LSCI) were at record highs for Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • Shipping connectivity remains below pre-Covid-19 levels in small island developing states, although those serving as regional trans-shipment centres, such as Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, have resumed their long-term growth trajectory.
  • The Bahamas has not yet recovered from the decline experienced during the pandemic.
  • Contract rates covering intra-South American trade rose by a dramatic 397% in 2022, compared with 2021. These increases were primarily down to strong demand while the supply capacity fell short.
  • Compared with 2019, the highest increases in contract rates were seen across routes originating from Asia and destined for South America. Asia-South America rates increased by 386% in 2022 when compared with 2019.
  • In LAC region, container port calls dropped by 4.4%, compared with 5.4% in North America and 7.5% in Europe.
  • Port calls by liquid bulk carriers increased by more than 5% in LAC.
  • Of the Top 25 ports under the World Bank’s Container Port Performance Index (CPPI) 2022, Cartagena, Colombia is ranked fourth, up eight places from 2021. Posorja, Ecuador is ranked at number 17, and Buenaventura, Colombia is ranked 20.
  • Asian ports dominate the global CPPI ranking, with a median index value of +53.6. This is followed by LAC (median index of +12.0), Africa (-27.3), Oceania (-33.1), and North America (-42.6). The CPPI reflects a port’s capacity to handle containers for export, import and trans-shipment.



UNCTAD is the UN trade and development body. It supports developing countries to access the benefits of a globalized economy more fairly and effectively and equips them to deal with the potential drawbacks of greater economic integration.

It provides analysis, facilitates consensus-building and offers technical assistance to help developing countries use trade, investment, finance and technology as vehicles for inclusive and sustainable development.