The maritime Port of Charleston was the nation’s fifth busiest waterborne freight gateway for international trade by value of shipments in 2003. It ranked thirteenth overall among all land, water, and air gateways with approximately $39 billion of international freight moving through it. This amount of trade represents about 5 percent of the value of U.S. international waterborne freight shipments and 2 percent of the total value of U.S. merchandise trade by all modes of transportation.
By weight, the facility is ranked twenty-first among all U.S. water gateways. In 2003, over 18 million tons of freight moved through this port accounting for almost 2 percent of the total U.S. international waterborne freight tonnage.
In 2003, containers handled by the Port of Charleston amounted to 1.2 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units), making it the second busiest container port on the East and Gulf coast, right behind the Port of New York & New Jersey. Over 2,000 vessels from various ports around the world called at the Port of Charleston in 2003; 69 percent of these were container ships, followed by tankers and dry-bulk carriers at 8 percent each.1
Imports through the Port of Charleston accounted for 69 percent of tonnage and 66 percent of the value of goods for the port in 2003. Merchandise exports accounted for 31 percent of tonnage and 34 percent of value in 2003.
Between 1999 and 2003, the value of merchandise goods transported through the Port of Charleston increased by over 33 percent—42 percent for imports and 19 percent for exports. During the same period, the tonnage of merchandise goods increased by 30 percent—imports increased by 64 percent while exports decreased by 12 percent.
The Port of Charleston is a major point for imports from Latin American countries and exports to European countries. The top five origin countries for imports and top five destination countries for exports accounted for 38 percent and 46 percent of imports and exports, respectively in 2003. Brazil is the largest origin country for imports while Germany is the major destination for exports.
The major commodities imported through the Port of Charleston include consumer goods, machinery, food, acids and chemicals, and textiles. The major commodities exported through this port include food items, paper products, wood pulp, clay products, and acids and chemicals.2
1 Dry-bulk ships carry homogeneous dry cargoes such as grain, coal, steel, and iron ore.
2 Commodities information available at http://www.port-of-charleston.com/about_the_port/statistics/top_10_list.asp as of Nov. 16, 2004.