Manufacturing Exodus: Impact on Global Shipping. 2024

The Shift of Manufacturing Out of China is Shaking Up Shipping.

In recent years, a significant transformation has been underway in the global manufacturing landscape. The traditional manufacturing powerhouse, China, is experiencing a notable shift as businesses explore alternative production hubs. This shift is not only reshaping the dynamics of global trade but is also having a profound impact on the shipping industry. Let’s delve into the key factors driving this change and the multifaceted consequences it carries.

Manufacturing Exodus: Impact on Global Shipping.


The global manufacturing landscape is witnessing a paradigm shift, with businesses increasingly diversifying their production bases outside of China. This change is sending ripples across the shipping industry, altering established trade routes and redefining logistics. In this article, we will explore the reasons behind this manufacturing exodus, its effects on the Chinese economy, and the far-reaching consequences for global shipping.

The transition of manufacturing operations away from China is unsettling the maritime sector.

A pervasive despondency has settled over the global shipping arena. Shipping container rates have experienced a precipitous decline, with logistics executives anticipating a prolonged freight recession extending into 2024. Industry titan Maersk, grappling with diminishing profits and revenue amid surpluses, escalating costs, and diminished prices, has announced plans to trim a minimum of 10,000 jobs.

Yet, amidst this gloom, a solitary bright spot emerges: intra-Asia shipping.

As manufacturers endeavor to broaden the scope of their supply chains by relocating specific production facets away from China, there has been a surge in demand for the transportation of raw materials and intermediary products within Asia.

In response, operators of container ships are intensifying their services in the Asian domain. Over recent months, various entities have introduced novel shipping routes linking ports across Asia.

In May, MSC, the preeminent player in ocean freight globally, enhanced and extended several of its Asian routes to augment direct connections between China and various ports in Southeast Asia. Concurrently, other shipping enterprises, including Japan’s Ocean Network Express, Singapore’s Pacific International Lines, South Korea’s HMM, and China’s OOCL, echoed this strategy with analogous announcements.

Sunandan Ray, CEO of Unique Logistics, a US-based global logistics and freight forwarding company, remarked, “Countries such as Vietnam, Bangladesh, Cambodia have witnessed an influx of manufacturing. Alongside this, there has been a discernible movement of raw materials into these nations, fostering the development of intra-Asia trade.”

Amid the intricate web of global trade transformations, one nation has ascended as a pivotal nexus: Vietnam.

This Southeast Asian enclave is experiencing a surge in foreign investments, attracting companies keen on establishing new manufacturing hubs within its borders. In response to this burgeoning industrial activity, maritime enterprises are intensifying direct linkages connecting Vietnam to both the United States and various Asian locales.

Data furnished by the UK-based transport economics consultancy, MDS Transmodal, vividly illustrates this trend. In 2019, Vietnam boasted 13 direct shipping corridors to the United States. Fast forward to the third quarter of 2023, and that figure has nearly doubled, reaching an impressive 23. In stark contrast, direct shipping routes linking the US and China have experienced stagnation: 56 in 2019 compared to a modest increase to 58 in 2023.

Vietnam’s elevation in the hierarchy of nations boasting direct shipping services to the United States is noteworthy. From a pre-pandemic standing at 23rd place, the nation now commands the sixth position. When analyzing the flow of commodities traversing the vast Pacific expanse, the scheduled deployed capacity between the US and Vietnam has surged by a substantial 83% between 2019 and 2023. In the same timeframe, the increase in capacity between the US and China was a comparatively modest 27%.

Antonella Teodoro, a seasoned consultant at MDS Transmodal, expressed her astonishment at Vietnam’s meteoric ascent in the maritime transport sector, emphasizing not just the growth itself but the remarkable speed at which it is transpiring. “When we scrutinize the developments in Vietnam, it’s undeniably remarkable,” she remarked.

Asia, the world’s manufacturing epicenter Beyond the US connection, shipping ties between Vietnam and its Asian counterparts are undergoing a dramatic upswing. MDS Transmodal’s comprehensive database reveals an almost twofold surge in scheduled cargo capacity between Vietnam and Sri Lanka, accompanied by double-digit percentage escalations with numerous other Asian nations. In the span from 2019 to 2023, Vietnam has integrated almost 90 additional direct routes with fellow Asian nations, with the most substantial increases observed in connections to South Korea, Malaysia, and Thailand.

Amidst the intricate tapestry of global industry and trade routes, China continues to hold a pivotal role. It stands as the nexus for both the United States and Vietnam, boasting the most extensive network of direct shipping connections. Since the year 2019, Vietnam has forged 46 additional direct shipping services with China, surpassing engagements with any other Asian counterpart.

This underscores the inherent complexity of the prevailing global trend towards diversified partnerships and risk mitigation. Governments and enterprises, while expanding beyond China, are not swiftly replacing the paramount industrial juggernaut. Consequently, supply chains are experiencing an elongation.

“The inclusion of Vietnam has evolved from being an alternative to becoming an additional node in the route,” remarks Teodoro. “This signifies an intra-Asia migration, affirming that Asia is evolving into the world’s manufacturing hub, not confined to China alone.”

Table depicting leading partner countries based on the count of direct shipping routes for both the US and Vietnam:

Ranking | US | Vietnam
1       | China | China
2      | Mexico | Hong Kong
3      | South Korea | South Korea
4      | Panama | Singapore
5      | Canada | Thailand
6      | Vietnam | Malaysia

The concept of “port diplomacy” embraced by China plays a pivotal role in leveraging the escalating demand for intra-Asia shipping. To harness this potential, Vietnam must invest in enhancing its infrastructure.

This involves optimizing port efficiency for swift cargo handling, widening channels to accommodate larger vessels, establishing terminals capable of managing offloaded containers, and establishing robust rail connections between ports and inland container depots.

Significantly, a substantial portion of this investment might be facilitated by China, a major investor in infrastructure alongside Taiwan and South Korea, notes Ray from Unique Logistics.

Presently, China holds considerable ownership interests in numerous ports across Asia, as detailed by Zongyuan Zoe Liu’s China Overseas Ports tracker at the Council on Foreign Relations. Noteworthy stakes include a 49% interest in Singapore’s Pasir Panjang terminal expansion, a 40% position in a deepwater port terminal project in Malaysia, and a 47% stake in a terminal project in Vietnam’s Saigon.

Described by a Chinese academic in 2018, China’s overseas port investments are characterized as a form of “port diplomacy,” a clever instrument within its broader diplomatic toolkit. This strategy enhances global influence, providing greater flexibility in economic coercion to achieve state objectives.

With the shift of manufacturing operations away from China heightening the significance of ports across Asia, Beijing perceives an opportunity to expand its investments in regional ports. This inclination was evident in 2021 when China Merchants Port conveyed its intent to “cautiously grasp suitable investment opportunities” in Southeast Asia, anticipating the global industrial shift in that direction.

Manufacturing Exodus: Impact on Global Shipping.

Reasons Behind the Shift

Rising Labor Costs in China

One of the primary catalysts for the move is the escalating labor costs in China. As the country’s economy has grown, so too have wage expectations, making neighboring nations with lower labor costs more attractive to manufacturers.

Trade Tensions and Geopolitical Factors

Trade tensions between China and various nations, coupled with geopolitical uncertainties, have incentivized companies to decentralize their production to mitigate risks associated with concentrated manufacturing.

Diversification of Supply Chains

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in global supply chains, prompting businesses to reevaluate their dependencies on a single manufacturing source. The push for supply chain resilience has led to a diversification strategy that involves spreading production across multiple locations.

Effects on Chinese Economy

The manufacturing exodus is not without consequences for China’s economy. The country is grappling with economic challenges as businesses relocate, leading to a slowdown in industrial growth. In response, the Chinese government has implemented initiatives to counteract the shift, aiming to stimulate domestic manufacturing and retain its economic prowess.

Global Shipping Dynamics

The reconfiguration of manufacturing hubs has profound implications for global shipping. New routes are emerging, and shipping volumes are experiencing fluctuations as businesses adapt to the changing landscape. Understanding these shifts is crucial for stakeholders in the shipping industry to navigate the evolving trade patterns.


In conclusion, the shift of manufacturing out of China is a transformative process with far-reaching effects on global shipping. As businesses continue to realign their production strategies, the shipping industry must adapt to new trade dynamics and emerging challenges. The impact of this shift goes beyond economic considerations, influencing environmental sustainability, technological advancements, and even consumer behavior.


  1. Q: How is the manufacturing shift affecting Chinese workers?
    • A: The relocation of manufacturing has led to job losses in some regions, but the Chinese government is actively implementing measures to support affected workers and promote alternative economic activities.
  2. Q: Are there specific countries benefiting from the manufacturing shift?
    • A: Yes, several Southeast Asian countries, such as Vietnam and Thailand, are emerging as attractive alternatives for manufacturers seeking lower production costs.
  3. Q: How is the shipping industry addressing the increased environmental impact?
    • A: Shipping companies are investing in sustainable practices, including the development of eco-friendly vessels and the implementation of cleaner technologies to minimize their environmental footprint.
  4. Q: What role does e-commerce play in driving the manufacturing shift?
    • A: E-commerce is a significant driver, influencing companies to establish production facilities closer to consumer markets to reduce delivery times and meet growing demand.
  5. Q: How can investors navigate the changing manufacturing landscape for profitable opportunities?
    • A: Investors should carefully analyze potential destinations, considering factors like political stability, infrastructure development, and regulatory environments to make informed investment decisions.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top