When we look back on 2013, we can see a number of clear trends: the continuing increase in the size of ships, with accompanying rationalization; freight rates under pressure; a fragile recovery in various sectors, but also a commercial climate that is not stable enough; changes in the energy market, and so on. These trends pose a number of immediate challenges for 2014.
The increasing size of ships and the consequent rationalization are not without consequences for port companies and the port community. The challenge here is to react quickly and flexibly to these developments. This will require changes in the long-term basis on which an international port such as ours operates. For instance, major infrastructure projects typically require us to look at least 10 years ahead. Such long lead times and the restrictions imposed by red tape and planning procedures often mean that we cannot keep up with the speed of changes in the global economy. It is therefore a challenge for the port community to react quickly enough to changes in the world market. To achieve this will demand creativity and collaboration, out-of-the-box thinking and the development of new IT systems.
A second big challenge is posed by the fact that the economy has still not fully recovered and the expectations for next year are still somewhat hazy. The recovery is fragile, and while there are signs that the market will start to pull ahead in 2014, at the same time there are authoritative voices that warn against setting our expectations too high. They see 2015 rather as the year in which we will still have to wait for a real boost to the economy.
A third challenge that is just as great, certainly for Europe, is posed by the high energy costs for industry. Energy-intensive sectors such as the chemical industry are losing out to their Chinese and especially American competitors. Innovation, energy saving and greater efficiency in the energy market are therefore the biggest challenges for the industrial complexes, not least those that form part of the port complex.
Eddy Bruyninckx is CEO of the Antwerp Port Authority.