Transportation & Logistics Analysis

Spanish ports drive logistics chain modernisation

May 06 2022

SPECIAL FEATURE 4/5. With Spain now European leader for the volume of containers handled, the country's ports are looking to position themselves as strategic links in a series of real logistics corridors.

The ports play a key role in Spain's external trade since they handle 60% of exports and 85% of imports. The port system accounts for close to 20% of transport GDP and 1.1% of Spanish GDP overall. It also generates 35,000 jobs directly and 110,000 indirectly.

Over the last 10 years, Spain's port throughput has shown remarkable growth even if cargo flows have been affected by the different economic cycles. The years 2008 and 2009 and then 2013 were marked by reductions in throughput but the recovery seen in 2014 led to a new growth cycle. In 2017, cargo throughput exceeded 500 million tonnes (MT) for the first time and, in 2019, reached a peak of 552 MT.

The Covid-19 pandemic and the economic crisis it provoked led to a drop of 8% in cargo throughput in 2020 and the 5% recovery seen in 2021, which took throughput to 532 MT, failed to make up the shortfall, even though Spanish ports were not affected by the congestion seen at a number of other international ports.

A clear increase in container throughput 

The underlying trend of the last two decades shows a clear increase in container throughput, which rose from 7.1 million TEU in 2000, to 12.5 million TEU in 2010 and 17.7 million TEU in 2021, which makes for an overall increase over the period of 149%.

Spain is currently number one in Europe for the number of containers handled per year. Valencia is the leading port, with 5.6 million TEU in 2021, putting it in fourth place in Europe after Rotterdam, Antwerp and Hamburg. Next come Algeciras and Barcelona. The concentration of traffic at these three Mediterranean ports is striking. Between them, they handle nearly 80% of Spain's container traffic (78% in 2021).

Development of logistics corridors

The investments realised over the last 20 years have made Spain a leading player in the European port industry. Today, Spanish ports have begun a new phase of development and are positioning themselves as key links in a series of real logistics corridors between Barcelona and Madrid, Valencia and Madrid, Valencia and Saragossa. They consider that they have an essential role to play in the modernisation of these corridors with the aim of turning them into fluid, digitalised and decarbonised tools to serve the Spanish economy.


  • Recent traffic trends
  • The particularities of the container trade in Spain
  • The importance of a good traffic mix
  • The reasoning behind logistics corridors
  • The unresolved port system organisation question

Photo credit © Port of Valencia


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Daniel Solano is an economics journalist. Based in Spain, he covers international trade and transport issues.
See all its articles