Global freight forwarding market grows 11.2% in 2021, but headwinds gather to dull forecasts

Global Freight Forwarding
  • Global Freight forwarding market grows by 11.2% in real terms during 2021, the fastest expansion in a decade
  • Air freight forwarding powers growth in 2021 as sea freight forwarding battled low capacity and port congestion
  • Inflation, the war in Ukraine and dwindling consumer confidence amongst factors providing headwinds to growth prospects

After experiencing one of its most challenging years to date amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the global freight forwarding market bounced back strongly and grew by 11.2% in real terms in 2021. This is the fastest growth rate since 2011, bringing the market value to €269,656m.

The market’s expansion was driven by global trade which reached new record highs during the year as recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic boosted demand. According to UNCTAD, global trade totalled around US$ 28.5 trillion, an increase of almost 13% relative to pre-pandemic levels. As well as the phasing out of pandemic-related restrictions on economic activity, government support schemes and economic stimulus packages introduced in many countries remained, keeping demand for goods at elevated levels. Factors such as the expansion of the e-commerce industry and the rise of free trade agreements have also been contributors to the growth of the global digital freight forwarding market.

Growth was led by air forwarding, which expanded at more than double the of the sea freight forwarding market. With a real growth rate of 14.9%, the air freight market reached a value of €121,404m. Throughout 2021, the growth in the air freight forwarding market was driven by strong demand for goods as well as supply chain bottlenecks in the sea and land transport. The latter has resulted in some cargo migrating to air freight to get around the problems, providing a boost to the air freight market.

In the sea freight forwarding market, growth opportunities were lost due to a shortage of carrier capacity and port congestion. These sector-specific supply factors held back growth in the sea freight forwarding market which grew by 6.6% in 2021 in real terms, to reach a value of €148,252m. Demand for sea freight was considerably higher than available capacity, pushing prices up around 69.8%.

Growth in 2022

As the drivers of the growth momentum are likely to gradually abate, global trade growth is expected to moderate in 2022. As a result of this continued but weakened global economic recovery, the global forwarding market is expected to grow at a slower pace of 5.7% and reach a market value of €284,868m.

Long-term growth trends

2026 forecasts are more pessimistic than previously as inflation challenges intensify, the war in Ukraine threatens global energy and food supplies and consumer spending slows. As a result, the global freight forwarding market is expected to grow at a 3.7% CAGR over the five years to 2026. The air forwarding market is forecasted to exhibit slightly faster growth, expanding at a 4.0% CAGR over the period, while the sea forwarding market is expected to grow slightly less quickly at 3.6% CAGR over the period. Increases in cross border e-commerce do however provide a bit more optimism, along with the return of capacity via passenger flights after the ending of Covid restrictions.


Ti’s latest Global Freight Forwarding market size and forecast data cover 96 countries and seven regions globally. It provides market sizes for the 2011-2021 period, a forecast for 2022 and a 5-year CAGR forecast for the period to 2026. The market is segmented by Air and Sea forwarding across all geographies and time periods.

For a full overview of the drivers and inhibitors of growth in global air and sea forwarding, download Ti’s Global Freight Forwarding Market Size & Growth 2021-2026 whitepaper now


Global Freight Forwarding Market Size & Growth 2021-2026

Containing a full breakdown of Ti’s brand new 2021 – 2026 market size and growth forecast data.