Europe port operators seek regulatory clarity in daunting market

Europe port operators seek regulatory clarity in daunting market

European ports such as Barcelona, pictured, and their terminal operators are seeking regulatory certainty to hedge against an increasingly uncertain global shipping market.

Europe’s private port and terminal operators have called for “clear and stable” regulations to ensure adequate returns on their investments in an increasingly unsustainable market.

“Time has come for the European Union and member states to acknowledge the role of the private sector and to adopt a real enabling framework for private investors,” the Federation of European Private Ports and Terminals, or Feport, said.

“Private port operators cannot continue to invest if the returns from investing in and operating terminals are not sufficient and if the rules applicable to port investments are constantly reinterpreted,” Feport said.

The organization, whose members operate 400 terminals across Europe, raised its concerns — detailed in a white paper — with EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc at a stakeholders’ conference in Brussels today.

Private port companies, which have “massively” invested on the seaside and landside, are facing “big” challenges in today’s market, Feport said.

“In the container sector, the ever-increasing alliances are seeking to leverage their position to drive down handling costs while at the same time expecting port operators to invest in the necessary equipment to handle bigger ships.”

Industry analyst Drewry sounded a similar warning last week, saying the perpetual drive for lower handling costs by container lines could lead to underinvestment in port infrastructure.

“This situation is becoming unsustainable in a context where the regulatory framework for ports is constantly changing, be it at national or European level,” Feport said in the white paper.

“The current depressed growth aggravates the impact of market inefficiencies and reveals the necessity to better target investments on hinterland connections to improve the connectivity of the transport network,” said Feport president Gunther Bonz.

Private operators want to continue investing, but they need a clear and stable framework including fair and transport governance rules and a real protection from risks of distortion of competition, he said.

“If the burden of restraints becomes too heavy, then private investment in ports and beyond will be postponed to the detriment of the European transport sectors.”

“We are confident that the European Commission and member states will hear our call as it is a legitimate request that will benefit not only private port operators but also to the whole maritime logistics chain.”

Contact Bruce Barnard at brucebarnard47@hotmail.com.