US becomes top trade partner for German seaports


Amid geopolitical challenges and economic headwinds in 2023, German seaports witnessed a transformative shift in trade dynamics.

Port of Hamburg
Aerial view of the Port of Hamburg

Amidst the challenges posed by geopolitical tensions and a sluggish global economy in 2023, German seaports experienced notable shifts in their key trade partnerships.

The United States emerged as the primary partner with a cargo turnover of 27.9 million tons, closely followed by Norway with 25.1 million tons.

Sweden, which had replaced the Russian Federation as the top partner in 2022, secured the third position in 2023 with a cargo turnover of 23.0 million tons, showcasing its continued importance in maritime partnerships. China followed closely in fourth place, contributing to the dynamic tapestry of global trade with a cargo turnover of 20.1 million tons.

The USA’s increased deliveries of fossil fuels played a pivotal role, accounting for more than two-fifths of the goods transshipped (12.2 million tons) in 2023, as Germany abandoned imports from Russia amid its war against Ukraine.

In 2023, the freight turnover of German seaports experienced a notable decline of 4.1% compared to the previous year, reaching a total of 267.8 million tonnes, according to the latest report from the German Federal Statistical Office.

The overall German foreign trade also witnessed a decrease in both exports (-2.0%) and imports  of good (-10.1%) in 2023 compared to 2022.

Hamburg retained its position as the busiest German seaport, handling 99.6 million tonnes, though experiencing a 3.6% decline from the previous year. Following Hamburg were Bremerhaven (39.2 million tonnes, -8.4%), Wilhelmshaven (29.8 million tonnes, -6.1%), and Rostock (23.9 million tonnes, +11.9%).

Rostock’s notable increase was attributed to a significant surge in the turnover of crude oil, jumping from 1.3 million tonnes in 2022 to 5.2 million tonnes in 2023, marking a remarkable 300% increase.


German seaports handled 38.0 million tons of coal, oil, and natural gas from aborad, marking a 5.3% increase compared to 2022. While coal receipt experienced a significant decline of 35.9%, crude oil receipt increased by 6.2%.Imports of natural gas, primarily liquefied petroleum gas, saw an increase from 317,000 tons in 2022 to 4.8 million tons in 2023, with the United States emerging as the primary supplier with 3.7 million tonnes.


In container traffic, German seaports handled 12.7 million TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units) in 2023, marking an 8.5% decline from the previous year. This marks the second consecutive decline, with the pre-crisis level of 15.0 million TEU (TEU) from 2019 yet to be reached. China retained its position as the most crucial partner, accounting for over a fifth (2.6 million TEU) of German container throughput, followed by the USA with just over a tenth (1.4 million TEU).

Despite the decline, container throughput in Chinese ports witnessed a notable decrease of 12.2%, while ports in the USA experienced a marginal decline of 3.2%.

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