Mediterranean ports: competitiveness for the European economy


This improvement is the result of the efforts of institutions, organisations and companies to increase efficiency, and is accompanied by a growth in port facilities which will ensure a sustained increase in traffic.

This increased productivity has been corroborated by shipping companies and independent international analysts. The Journal of Commerce (JOC) productivity report on European ports for the first half of 2014 ranks the Port of Barcelona as the third most productive on the continent, with a ratio of 78 containers moved per vessel per hour.

EuroMediterranean ports currently handle less traffic than the major ports of northern Europe and have a lower presence on the markets of Central Europe. Although maritime transport between Europe and Asia passes through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal – representing an annual trade flow of 20 million TEUs – only 30% of these goods are actually loaded and unloaded at docks in southern Europe.

The new situation emerging on the European port map, with efficient and productive Mediterranean ports able to handle large volumes of goods, has led these ports to ask the European Commission (EC) to design a freight policy that can provide the necessary infrastructures to balance maritime traffic between the north and the south of Europe. These infrastructures should ensure European companies balanced, efficient and sustainable access to the ports located on both the Mediterranean and Atlantic sea boards.


A sustainable transport system

Intermed, the association that brings together the ports of Genoa, Marseilles and Barcelona, has recently approached the EC to request that the funds allocated to the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) be used to build a well-balanced freight system. The association believes that developing the new TEN-T network should help to speed up transport flows between the ports of the EU and its various markets, bringing about a less-congested network and creating a more sustainable logistics and transport system.

The Ferrmed multi-sector association shares this view and defends connecting European ports with their markets via a large rail freight network crossing Europe from north to south.

Intermed and Ferrmed argue environmental and economic reasons for this approach.

On the one hand, the concentration of logistics and distribution activities in northern ports has led to high CO2 and pollutant emissions, not only in areas close to ports but also in transport networks and throughout the countries with most activity. The EC’s policy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions necessarily involves a commitment to sustainable logistics to reduce the environmental pressure suffered by most of the EU’s citizens.

Land transport is not the only source of pollution. Vessels that are either sailing or docked at ports also produce large volumes of CO2 and pollutant gases, while various authorities are working to reduce pollution of marine origin. One example is the berthing ban on polluting vessels already effective in the Baltic Sea ports.

Both associations are demanding consistency between the EC’s transport and environmental policies and for the Commission to commit to a greater balance of traffic between both sea boards to avoid an uncontrollable increase in pollution.



International investments in Mediterranean ports

There are powerful economic reasons for this approach. Mediterranean ports have come to lead Europe in terms of productivity and efficiency, as well as standing out for their comprehensive transport and distribution services and highly competitive labour, logistics and freight management costs. As a result of this, the world’s main shipping companies and port operators – such as Hutchison, which has invested € 500 million in Barcelona – have set up in the ports of southern Europe and have made significant long-term investments to develop continental distribution networks based largely on rail services.

The big shipping companies have understood that operating in the ports of Europe’s southern coast is a key to success and are investing the necessary resources there. The result is that today the maritime connectivity of the southern ports is highly competitive in terms of stopovers and destinations.

One example is the announcement of new services between Asia and the Port of Barcelona to be provided by the new 2M alliance comprising Maersk and MSC, which operates one third of the Asia-Europe routes. 2M has 11 regular services between Europe and Asia, three of which call at the ports of Rotterdam, Antwerp and Barcelona.

The changes being made by the major ship owners in the international maritime business can also create new scenarios for the ports of southern Europe. Large global alliances concentrating international maritime trade planning in just a few hands; bringing increasingly large ships into service; concentrating their operations in just a few logistics centres with the capacity to meet these huge volumes of goods; as well as slow steaming, can all make the most of the lower costs and higher environmental benefits involved in operating in Mediterranean ports.

To all of the above we should add that the southern ports are increasingly acting as a trade distribution hub for goods starting or ending in North Africa and the Middle East, two regions with high growth potential.

While maritime connectivity is evolving towards a new scenario for Mediterranean ports, connectivity with the hinterland still has much room for improvement.



Fostering rail transport

For Intermed and Ferrmed, bringing about a competitive and sustainable development of the European logistics system means providing Mediterranean ports with efficient connectivity, in particular modern railway infrastructure with sufficient capacity to offer reliable, competitive and quality services to the centre of the European continent. The port alternative offered by the Med is an opportunity for economic growth and environmental improvement for the whole of Europe.

The three Intermed member ports (Barcelona, Genoa and Marseilles) have different characteristics that helped them to position themselves as strategic enclaves for the hinterlands they serve.

Barcelona today brings together several factors that make it highly competitive. There are several logistics areas within a radius of a few kilometres, with companies dedicated to high added-value logistics and distribution and the city is the point of convergence of all modes of transport: rail, road, air and sea. Several terrestrial, rail and Short Sea Shipping services make it possible to transport any goods to Europe and the Western Mediterranean within 24 – 48 hours. The city is also the epicentre of one of Europe’s largest industrial conglomerations, with a significant weight in sectors such as car manufacture, pharmaceuticals, textiles and footwear, food and agriculture, e-commerce, and so on.

The upshot of all this is that Barcelona offers local and foreign companies a complete network of transport and logistics – in fact the leading international logistics companies have set up their head offices there – with consolidated and reliable services offering a high level of expertise and global reach.


Reducing emissions

Barcelona also has an ideal geostrategic location: shipping routes to the Far East have transit times of 23 to 28 days; this is shorter than those of the northern ports and obviously requires less fuel while cutting greenhouse gas and CO2 emissions by 15%. The Port of Barcelona is aware of this factor and has launched several initiatives, including the Ecocalculator.

The Ecocalculator is an online tool used to measure the carbon footprint of freight routes used by both the marine and terrestrial modes: road and rail. The Ecocalulator shows the greater or lesser environmental efficiency of each route, and therefore for each port through which goods pass, and for each mode of transport. This tool allows shippers to see how routing goods between Asia and Europe through the Port of Barcelona substantially reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

Several logistics operators based in Barcelona are using this tool to inform their customers about the carbon footprint generated by their transport, helping them to make the most sustainable and efficient decision.

The sum of the various factors – productivity, efficiency, reliability, sustainability, services – makes Barcelona a highly competitive option, particularly for routes with China and the Far East. Barcelona and the Mediterranean ports are calling on the Commission to show coherence and rigour in its investment policy in the Trans-European Transport Network to achieve two main objectives: to ensure the balanced and sustainable development of the EU’s transport and logistics system; and to allow all European companies efficient, sustainable and competitive access to ports and, consequently, to international markets.

Source: Port de Barcelona News.