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  December 3rd, 2021 | Written by


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Established in 1980 to meet the needs of a newly deregulated domestic transportation market, Armstrong & Associates provides unparalleled third-party logistics market research. With offices smack dab in Middle America (Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin, to be precise) and a newsletter that is emailed to more than 88,000 subscribers globally, A&A, as the hep cats call it, churns out market estimates found in media accounts, trade publications (like you-know-who) and securities filings by publicly traded 3PLs,

One thing consumers of A&A’s research gobble up every year is the Top 25 Global Freight Forwarders List. The 2021 version (see accompanying chart) includes rankings based on 2020 gross revenue and freight forwarding volume.

Once again, DHL, Kuehne + Nagel, DB Schenker, DSV Panalpina, Sinotrans, Expeditors and Nippon Express take the power positions, but there are also new entrants: Apex Logistics International and CTS International Logistics.

Wherever your company falls (or does not fall) on the list, it is important to consider that we are (fingers crossed) coming out of unprecedented times in the ocean freight shipping game. A shipping container shortage led to a massive spike in freight rates. Of course, during the height of the pandemic, production and trade halted, leaving ocean carriers in limbo—and many are still trying to regain their sea legs. 

Yes, the busiest trade routes are humming again. The Long Beach/Los Angeles port complex experienced a 23% spike in volume in December 2020 compared to the previous year and, despite the pandemic, the second busiest December in their history. On the opposite coast, the ports of Charleston, South Carolina, and Savannah, Georgia, also dealt with massive influxes in traffic.

Ports that did not share in that success can at least take solace in knowing congestion has created fresh headaches for the industry leaders. Maersk and MSC have pulled certain carriers from their regular rotations in the short term. Timing shipments, so products can navigate through offshore parking lots and reach store shelves in time for the holidays, has become the sweet science. 

Meanwhile, many shippers say they’re operating at losses to meet their global customers’ demands. Keep in mind this is at a time when investing much more into that magic bullet known as digitization is all the rage. The aforementioned Maersk is using technology to streamline freight booking, particularly spot booking. CMA CGM, Yang Ming Marine and Hapag-Lloyd also introduced freight booking tools. And artificial intelligence (AI) is growing as a major force in global shipping.

Here comes another headache: The reliance on tech increases the risks of cyberattacks. Since 2017, nearly half of the top 10 freight carriers worldwide were victims of digital security breaches, including a $300 million loss from Maersk due to a ransomware cyberattack.

While noble, sustainability efforts create another money-sucker for ports and logistics companies. The freight shipping industry represents approximately 2.2% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, which expected to rise by 50% by 2050 if action isn’t taken. Carriers are doing their part by switching to more environmentally friendly fuels, such as liquified natural gas (LNG). Around 13% of new vessels ordered this year are LNG fueled, because a clean planet = priceless.


2021 Rank*

Service Provider

Gross Revenue 
(US$ Millions)**


2020 Rank

1 DHL Supply Chain & Global Forwarding 28,453 2,862,000 1
1 Kuehne + Nagel 25,787 4,529,000 1
2 DB Schenker 20,761 2,052,000 2
2 DSV Panalpina 18,269 2,204,902 3
3 Sinotrans 12,174 3,750,000 4
4 Expeditors 10,116 1,091,380 5
5 Nippon Express 19,347 660,152 6
6 CEVA Logistics*** 7,416 1,081,100*** 7
7 C.H. Robinson 15,490 1,200,000 9
8 Kerry Logistics 6,867 1,019,924 10
8 UPS Supply Chain Solutions 11,048 620,000 8
9 GEODIS 9,135 866,631 12
10 Bolloré Logistics 5,265 761,000 11
11 Hellman Worldwide Logistics 2,972 905,100 12
12 Kintetsu World Express 5,750 640,063 13
13 Agility 4,018 771,000 14
14 Yusen Logistics 4,248 764,000 14
15 CTS International Logistics 2,160 1,021,007 Not listed
16 Hitachi Transport System 6,346 662,000 16
17 DACHSER*** 6,591 492,440 15
18 Toll Group 7,260 523,300 18
19 Maersk Logistics (DAMCO) 6,369 401,369 17
20 Apex Logistics International 2,274 190,000 Not Listed
21 Logwin 1,292 698,000 19
22 Mainfreight 2,467 347,638 21


* Ranking also factors in a forwarder’s air cargo shipments by metric tons.

** Revenues and volumes are company reported or Armstrong & Associates, Inc. estimates. Revenues have been converted to US$ using the average annual exchange rate in order to make non-currency related growth comparisons. Freight forwarders are ranked using a combined overall average based on their individual rankings for gross revenue, ocean TEUs and air metric tons.

*** Includes LCL shipments.