Antwerp and Zeebrugge to sign container deal
The Antwerp and Zeebrugge port authorities will sign an agreement next week that will seal months of negotiations between the two harbours to join forces and improve their collaboration in respect of container shipping, which is the growth engine of both ports. This step was initiated by shipping and transhipment companies active in both harbours and urged by the Flemish government, which is keen to see an end to the years of fierce competition between the two ports. The partnership is also intended to strenghthen their competitive edge and prevent them from losing more traffic to Rotterdam once it opens two gigantic containter terminals on the port and supporting infrastructure, . Following the announcement of their future partnership late last year, public works minister Hilde Crevits CD&V will present the details of the cooperative agreement as part of a general action plan for Flemish harbours next week. A proper container joint venture with one umbrella structure and accounting system is not on the cards for these ports as they are equally set on keeping their own autonomy and infrastructure. They will however adopt one transparent pricing policy and draft joint market proposals. With their stronger presentation model which will sell Zeebrugge’s prime position as coastal harbour and Antwerp as a major port access to the hinterland, the two port authorities plan to boost container traffic to and from Asia, which is still highly underexplored compared to Rotterdam’s presence on this route. Of the large container ships bound for Western Europe that leave Asia each week, 28 dock in Rotterdam, six in Zeebrugge and nine in Antwerp. Joining forces could see Antwerp and Zeebruges reclaim some of their lost traffic, especially niche traffic. Improper rail subsidies also result in many large shipping companies choosing Rotterdam over Antwerp when they unload freight in Zeebruges destined for inland Flemish locations. From Rotterdam the freight is loaded on inland ships or trucks. An improved policy is needed to address this kind of anomalies. Large shipping companies like CMA-CGM, Maersk and MSC and container terminal operators like PSA have been calling for streamlined collaboration between Flemish port for quite some time, but the Flanders Port Area initiative that was rolled out by Flemish minister-president Kris Peeters CD&V to boost mutual collaboration many years ago did not deliver much. Hopefully Crevits’s plan will be more successful.