10 Largest Ports in North America [Updated: Oct 2021]
Other than handling goods vital to the economy, from fuel to food, ports are also growth accelerators. They generate hundreds of thousands of employment opportunities and are critical sources of national and state taxes in North America.
A port’s contribution to the economy depends on its size and the volume of cargo it handles. Therefore, our list of the ten largest ports in North America should be seen as a list of some of the largest centers of economic activity in America and Canada.
Also known as America’s Port, the Port of Los Angeles is the largest port in North America. Spread over 7500 acres, it handles 20 percent of all incoming cargo for the United States. Its container volume was 9.3 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) in 2019, a 5.5 percent increase over the 8.8 million TEU from 2018.
Total size: 7500 acres
Cargo terminals: 25
Vessels handled: 1867
Annual cargo tonnage: 178 million metric revenue tons
Annual cargo value: $276 billion
Leading trading partners: China and Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea
Direct and indirect employment: 1.6 million all over the US
The second biggest port on our list, the Port of Long Beach, is less than 30 kilometers from the Los Angeles Port. Founded in 1911, it’s today one of the biggest gateways for trade between Asia and North America. The Long Beach Port was one of the first to adopt eco-friendly policies to reduce its impact on the environment, through measures such as the Green Port Policy.
Total size: 3200 acres
Cargo berths: 80
Annual cargo tonnage: 78.2 million metric revenue tons
Annual container value: $180 billion
Direct and indirect employment: 370,000
Known for: Environment-friendly policies, including, the implementation of the Clean Air Action Plan
The New York and New Jersey Port is the biggest port on the East Coast, receiving 72 percent of the first port of calls. Encompassing waterways in the New York-New Jersey Estuary, the port has two foreign-trade zones in it.
Container volume:7.4 million TEUs
Total containers: 4.2 million
Annual cargo tonnage: 74 million metric revenue tons
Annual container value: $205 billion
Leading trading partners: China, India, Germany
Two of the four ports in Georgia - Savannah, and Brunswick - when combined, take the fourth spot in our list of the largest ports in North America. The largest single-terminal container facility of the country is in the Port of Savannah, while Brunswick is known as a hub for automobile imports that is used by more than twelve auto manufacturers.
Container volume: 4.35 million TEU in Savannah alone
Deepwater terminals: Garden City terminal (1200 acres), Ocean terminal (200 acres)
Primary goods: Automobiles, heavy machinery, agricultural products
The Port of Seattle-Tacoma is the result of the 2014 merger of the two Washington ports. In 2015, it became the third-largest in terms of cargo handling in America. A significant part of the regional economy, the port did $9.7 billion of business in 2017. To modernize its Terminal 5, the port undertook a $500 million investment in 2019.
Container volume: 3.7 million TEUs
Total containers: 4.2 million
Primary exports: Oilseeds and grains, machinery, computers
Direct and indirect employment: 151,400
In 2008, the largest port in Canada, the Port of Vancouver, merged with the North Fraser Port Authority and Fraser River Port Authority to form Port Metro Vancouver. Spread over 3700 acres, the port is as big as the next big five ports in Canada and is expected to grow at an annual rate of 3.5 percent.
Major terminals: 25
Vessels handled: 2677
Annual cargo tonnage: 76.5 million metric revenue tons
Container volume: 1.8 million TEUs
Annual cargo value: $276 billion
Direct and indirect employment: 115,300
Impact on GDP: $11.9 billion
Growing at an annual rate of 2.6 percent for five years is one of East Coast’s busiest ports, the Port of Virginia. With multinationals like Amazon and Navien setting up operations in the state, it can only get busier at the port. Norfolk, Portsmouth, Newport, Virginia International, and Virginia Inland are the major terminals here. With regulators approving the Georgia-Virginia agreement between the ports of Savannah and Virginia, the port is expected to make significant benefits from the combined economies of scale.
Major terminals: 5
Container volume: 2.85 million TEUs
Direct and indirect employment: 397,000
Economic impact on the state: $92 billion
When you consider foreign waterborne tonnage, the Port of Houston is the busiest in America. The 50-mile-long port has over 200 public and private terminals. The largest port in the Gulf Coast, the Houston Port handles 52 percent of project cargo among ports in the region. One of its current focus areas is the NeoPanamax expansion.
Vessel calls: 8200
Annual cargo tonnage: 247 million metric revenue tons
Annual cargo volume: 1.6 million TEUs
Leading products: Petroleum and petroleum products
Economic impact on the state: $339 billion
Direct and indirect employment: 3.2 million
The ports of Georgetown and Charleston together form the South Carolina ports. The importance of the port to the economy of South Carolina can be gauged by the fact that it directly or indirectly provides 10 percent of all jobs in the state, that too, offering wages that are 32 percent higher than the state average.
Annual cargo volume: 1.9 million TEUs
Foreign ports served: 100
Economic impact: $63.4 billion
Direct and indirect employment: 187,200
The first terminals for container ships were built here. On the Pacific Coast, it was the first important port. Although it tends to be overshadowed by its big brothers, the Port of Oakland is ranked among the top three gateways on the West Coast. The port handles 99 percent of all containerized goods that move through Northern California.
Vessel arrivals: 1775
Annual container volume: 2.5 million TEUs
Leading trading partner: Asia
Know Your North American Freight Gateways
Does your business trade internationally between North America and other continents? If so, your goods will be likely to pass through one or more of these top-10 container ports. Apart from being notable for their economic contribution to Canada and the United States, it’s always good to know a little about the facilities that will handle your ocean freight.
That’s why we like to share insights like those provided here. Remember to keep an eye on our Knowledge Series of articles, as we regularly add new guides and informative posts to help you navigate the world of ocean and air freight shipping.
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