Fierce competition alongside an increasing prevalence of inland hub developments and supply chain alliances have been predicted in New Zealand’s port sector over the next two decades by Westpac industry economist David Norman.

While the country’s freight task is forecast to grow 58% in tonnage and 48% in tonne-kilometres in the 30 years to 2042, Mr Norman notes the “major implications for port infrastructure and investment” being driven by the rapid onset of ever-larger calling vessels.

“New Zealand’s 13 export ports, of which 11 are also involved in imports, cannot all expect to upgrade to service these large vessels,” he says.

“It is inevitable that a handful of ports will continue to serve the increasingly-large vessels in a hubbing model whereby large ships dock at just a few ports and smaller ships provide coastal shipping connections to smaller ports.”

Mr Norman foresees competition between ports driving regular “raids” on customers in neighbouring catchments.

“The emergence of inland ports, usually connected by rail to a port, also provides a means for ports to expand their area of service beyond their immediate surrounds. This has in some cases resulted in major customers setting up distribution centres (DCs) near particular ports or their inland ports.”

He predicts the increasing emergence of innovative strategic alliances, such as Port of Tauranga’s recent purchase of a share of PrimePort Timaru.

“Via coastal shipping, Tauranga is able to funnel more containers through its port, while accessing the large hinterland served by PrimePort.

“In particular, through a separate tie-up between Port of Tauranga and the freight company owned by Fonterra and Silver Fern Farms, PrimePort has managed to re-secure freight movements from Fonterra’s Clandeboye plant.”