Menu Home

Maritime Cargo Comings and Goings 2023

May 31, 2024

The Northwest Seaport Alliance (NWSA or the alliance) is one of the top maritime ports in North America. Cargo operations through the Seattle and Tacoma gateway have a significant impact on international trade and the local economy, providing jobs and revenue to Washington state — a state where 40% of jobs are tied to trade.  

The NWSA produces an annual cargo trade report that highlights trade activity, including country, port, and commodity breakdowns, as well as profiles on the top ten trading partners by total TEUs.

In 2023, the top trading partners by TEUs were: 

  1. China 
  2. Japan 
  3. Vietnam 
  4. South Korea 
  5. Taiwan 
  6. Thailand 
  7. Indonesia 
  8. Malaysia 
  9. India 
  10. Philippines 

The top ten trading partners mirror 2022, with India surpassing The Philippines in 2023.  

When ranked by dollar value, the top trading partners were: 

  1. China 
  2. Japan 
  3. South Korea 
  4. Vietnam 
  5. Taiwan 
  6. Thailand 
  7. Indonesia 
  8. Malaysia 
  9. Philippines 
  10. India 


Here is a summary of NWSA 2023 volumes:  



NWSA handled 3 million TEUs in 2023, down 12.1% from 2022’s 3.4 million TEUs. After strong demand in 2022, lighter volumes in 2023 caused the withdrawal of carriers and services that entered the transpacific trade at the height of restocking. Coupled with high inventory and low consumer demand due to inflation in 2023, volume comparisons against 2022 were muted. 

Global reach  

The NWSA has regular weekly services with key markets in Asia, Europe, Central and South America, and Oceania, and the products from our region reach markets all over the world. Asia and Pacific make up most of the volume through the NWSA gateway, accounting for 93.6% of trade by TEUs in 2023. 


Strong trade relationships  

Washington state is one of the most trade-dependent states in the nation and has established strong trade relationships with many other countries. These top five countries import and export valuable merchandise and commodities through the NWSA gateway.  

Top five import trading partners by TEUs  

China – 542,280 TEUS  
Vietnam – 135,808 TEUs  
Japan – 83,640 TEUs  
Taiwan – 52,730 TEUs  
South Korea – 52,670 TEUs  

Fun fact: In 2017, Vietnam was the fifth largest source of goods via the NWSA. Now, the Southeast Asia market is a growing region for the gateway, with four direct services between Vietnam and the PNW. 

Top five export trading partners by TEUs  

Japan – 131,181 TEUs  
China – 104,067 TEUs  
South Korea – 90,207 TEUs  
Taiwan – 53,672 TEUs  
Malaysia – 25,518 TEUs  

Exports continue their recovery, and we have had eight months of straight growth. 

Fun fact: Malaysia replaced Indonesia to become a top five export trading partner.  

In 2021, China accounted for 44.6% of TEU volumes. In 2023, the number dropped to 39.9%. Vietnam’s market share grew from 7.9% in 2021 to 9.8% in 2023.  

Reaching the world

The following global ports send and receive the highest volume of cargo handled by NWSA. 


Top five origin ports by TEUs:  

Yantian, China – 141,677 TEUs  
Shanghai, China – 125,343 TEUs  
Ningbo, China – 98,421 TEUs  
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – 70,662 TEUs  
Qingdao, China – 66,447 TEUs  

Fun fact: Four of the top five origin ports are in China.  

Top five destination ports by TEUs: 

Tokyo, Japan – 48,872 TEUs  
Kaohsiung, Taiwan – 45,444 TEUs  
Gwangyang, South Korea – 40,191 TEUs  
Busan, South Korea – 37,179 TEUs  
Qingdao, China – 27,729 TEUs 

Fun fact: Two of the top five destination ports are in South Korea.  

Top five commodities  

Here are the types of commodities moved through NWSA container terminals in 2023 by TEUs and Vessel Value.  


Export gateway of choice 

The NWSA is the leading U.S. export gateway for Hay and Forage, Animal Feed, Apples, Frozen Potato Products (French Fries), Fresh Potatoes, Grass Feed, Pears, Quinces, Hops and Hop Extract, and Cherries by TEUs.  

In addition, the NWSA is the nation’s second-largest gateway for containerized refrigerated (reefer) exports. Top reefer exports include Frozen Potato Products (French Fries), Apples, Fish, Fresh Potatoes, Pork, Dairy Products, Vegetables, and Beef. 

Gateway to Alaska and Hawaii 

While most cargo is international, the NWSA is also the gateway to Alaska and Hawaii. In 2023, 25% of cargo was domestic. NWSA domestic terminals handle more than 80 percent of containerized ocean shipments between Alaska and the Lower 48 states. 

Washington agriculture 

As has been noted in past posts, agricultural products are a huge part of the NWSA’s export volumes. The Port of Seattle recognizes that our state would never be an agricultural leader without the contributions of migrant farmworkers and partners.  

The Washington State Department of Agriculture produces graphics that tell the story well.  


Source: Washington State Department of Agriculture 

Washington State is a top producer for many agricultural commodities: 


Source: Washington State Department of Agriculture 

Breakbulk and autos 

The NWSA provides a range of services like shipping breakbulk, project cargo, heavy lift cargo, and autos — including helicopters — with regularly scheduled services to and from Asia, Europe, and Oceania, and by transshipment to anywhere in the world.  

In 2023, the alliance handled 453,250 metric tons of breakbulk, down 5.3% versus record-breaking volumes at NWSA-operated breakbulk terminals in 2022. 


Auto volumes were up 95.6% versus 2022, fueled by new General Motors business coupled with GLOVIS America’s consolidation of its KIA and Hyundai business in the gateway. Recovery in auto manufacturing since COVID and pent-up consumer demand for automobiles also contributed to the strong volume. 

If you are a watcher of Seattle’s working waterfront, you may have noticed auto vessels calling at Terminal 46. Read more→

Vessel calls 

You have probably heard the phrase “big-ship ready” a lot. It’s more than just a buzzword. The NWSA has been proactively planning and developing terminal improvements to remain competitive in the changing global shipping industry. That includes working with tenants to make major capital improvements to marine terminal facilities to meet the demand of larger vessels. In 2023, the largest vessels the NWSA handled were 15,294 TEU vessels, in the Seattle (North) Harbor.  

Phase 2 of Terminal 5 was completed in Q1 2024. Read more→

Fun fact: The largest vessel handled in the gateway is the 17,859 TEU CMA CGM Benjamin Franklin, which called Terminal 18 in the Seattle (North) Harbor in 2016. 

In 2024, the NWSA has handled so far is a 15,372 TEU vessel, which called in the Tacoma (South) Harbor. 



  • 3 million TEUs carried 23 million metric tons of containerized cargo in 2023 
  • Most of this cargo was international, though 737,649 TEUs were shipped to and from Alaska and Hawaii 
  • Domestic terminals handle more than 80% of containerized shipments between Alaska and the lower 48 states 
  • 17 international container carriers provide regular weekly services to key markets in Asia, Europe, Central and South America, and Oceania 
  • Eighteen regularly scheduled liner services connect cargo to over 60 direct international ports of call 
  • Seven breakbulk and roll on /roll off carriers offer regular service through Puget Sound with service to markets around the globe 
  • Four domestic carriers provide regular weekly services to Alaska and Hawaii 
  • A study released in 2019 highlighted the NWSA’s economic impact (both indirect and induced): a total of 58,400 jobs, over $4 billion in labor income, and almost $12.4 billion in business output. Learn more→
  • 40% of the jobs in Washington state are tied to trade. 

About The Northwest Seaport Alliance 

The Northwest Seaport Alliance is a marine cargo operating partnership of the Port of Seattle and Port of Tacoma and a leading container gateway in the United States. Under a port development authority, the NWSA manages the container, breakbulk, auto, and some bulk terminals in Seattle and Tacoma. 

Top photo credit: "Wheat" by Sleepy Claus is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Related to Maritime Cargo Comings and Goings 2023

Back to Top