A booming shipping network

Asia is rapidly becoming the logistical and economic hub for the world's sea trade. Roll over the map for global hotspots.

FORTUNE -- Nearly 90% of all goods traded across borders travel, in part, by sea. Typically a ship will undertake six voyages a year. The fastest-growing routes are between ports in Asia, while goods moving out of that continent account for 43% of all maritime trade, according to IHS Global Insight, an economic forecasting firm. Today the most heavily trafficked sea route is between China and the West Coast of the U.S. The total value of goods that travel from China to the U.S. is four times that of those on the return trip -- a clear symbol of America's trade deficit. New, faster routes may soon open. The Northwest and Northeast passages through the Arctic Ocean have been ice-free in the summer every year since 2008. Russia's Northeast Passage would offer a quicker course from China to Europe, and the Northwest Passage along Canada's coast would bypass the Panama Canal on routes from China to the East Coast of the U.S.

Sources: IHS Global Insight; International Chamber of Shipping; Hofstra University Department of Global Studies & Geography; National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis; Containerisation International; Drewry Shipping Consultants; Journal of Commerce; World Shipping Council

For more on the future of shipping, click on the links below
What it costs
A booming network
A bigger, better box
Ports go high-tech

This story is from the May 21, 2012 issue of Fortune.

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