2018: “transformative year” for ports

Shifting economic trends, trade flows and global demographic patterns, in conjunction with changes in port ownership could lead to a "transformative year" for port development, according to law firm Ince & Co.

These factors could create a “unique set of commercial opportunities for port operators”, which will also impact the wider ports supply chain.

Ince & Co noted one trend of particular commercial value to operators: the shift towards gateway operations, rather than transhipment. Ton van den Bosch, head of Ince & Co’s global ports & maritime infrastructure practice, said: “When we look at countries like Congo or East Timor, we clearly see operators scrambling to establish gateway terminals to open up these markets to global trade.

“This is a pattern that is repeating all over the world: Belt and Road investment improves local infrastructure and transport links, and operators move in to build. Put bluntly, cargo volumes needing to reach localised geographies in these frontier markets have few other choices. Port operators that can lead this trend and get into these markets early will be able to build themselves as a lasting and indispensable presence to these nations.

“No operator can avoid the changing commercial realities of port operations,” he continued. “There is every prospect that 2018 is set to be a transformative year for these terminals and their ongoing development, with real commercial opportunities to be had for those operators who can navigate these waters successfully.”

But there are risks to consider too, including the challenge of secure financing in emerging markets, compliance issues, as well as anti-bribery and corruption.

And while Mr van den Bosch sees continued R&D in the use of emerging technologies in the ports world - including automation and blockchain – he does not anticipate any of these being a real game-changer in 2018.

“Fundamentally, we believe that the coming year will see an even greater pace and scale of investment for our global ports industry, creating opportunities across the supply chain,” he said. “As competition increases, the commercial reality is obvious; plan now for 2018 and beyond, or risk being left behind by more adaptive, forward-thinking operators.”

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