The recently announced Antwerp-Zeebrugge port integration (PI) is an important development in the North Sea ports region, and just another step in a worldwide trend, championed by China. Below, follow the preliminary results of our research, titled as above (without the text in parentheses).
Amongst them, perhaps the most interesting result for the Antwerp-Zeebrugge merge is that the positive effects of the integration are expected to be larger for Zeebrugge than for Antwerp!
It has long been established (Haralambides, 2002; 2017; 2019) that unfettered competition among regional ports -often being played one against the other by powerful carrier alliances- leads to unnecessary duplication of effort, excess port capacity and waste of scarce port resources. The world of business (and politics) is concentrating in the pursuit of economies of scale. In many countries around the world (with Italy an excellent example), earlier efforts to port devolution are being reversed and decision-making authority is re-centralized.
The design of port integration procedures is neither simple nor can it be uniform. Coordinated top-down (central government) directions may be required, following the results of our research. Such policy intervention would focus on rationalization of public investments; spatial differences and industry structure; city-sizes; and promotion of ‘port cluster’ effects, including education and R&D. Policy intervention may also be necessary, given that the effects of port integration are not, naturally, instantaneous but realizable in the longer-term. This is something that would perhaps require institutional reforms, alongside the necessary ‘port-centric’ infrastructure investments in road and rail infrastructure, warehousing, inland terminals, and logistics facilities by and large. Such investments would be more meaningful and demanded in smaller cities where the PI impacts are larger, as we have argued.
We hope our results provide sufficient theoretical support to the worldwide efforts on port integration, aiming at port resources rationalization, port competitiveness, and regional economic development (the full research will be published soon).