Port Cooperation: “We need to clarify what we are talking about”

Interview with Hans-Peter Zint, Chairman of the Cuxhaven Port Association

Mr Zint, in February, ELBESEAPORTS held an event on the cooperation of the Lower Elbe ports in Cuxhaven. You participated via a statement concerning the possibilities to improve this cooperation. Why is the topic of port cooperation currently coming into focus?

The topic of port cooperation has entered the public agenda as a result of ongoing discussions concerning the JadeWeserPort container terminal and the pending adjustments of the seaside access routes to the North German seaports. There are continuous demands for the ports to cooperate – but who with whom, with which goal in mind and through which jointly discussed and realisable measures – this remains fairly vague and in the dark. We need to clarify what we are talking about: Who can cooperate with whom regarding which topics?

In which ways should the ports cooperate in your opinion, and what makes port cooperation necessary?

In my opinion, a cooperation of the various North German port locations can take place on three different levels: between the different federal states in which the ports are located, between the largely state-owned port authorities and between the private terminal operating companies.

The first level is the cooperation of the federal states. The states usually are responsible for and create the port infrastructure – that means they account for a majority of the investment cost for a new terminal. Because port infrastructure (like e.g. motor ways) is part of the economically necessary infrastructure for a foreign trade-dependent industrial nation like Germany, these investments rightly also include tax money. This results in the self-evident obligation not to use such investments to create public money-financed overcapacities. Hence it can be thoroughly sensible for the state governments to counsel each other - and also the market - on the decisions where and when port infrastructure should be built. This also matches the mantra-like assertion that the German ports do not stand in competition with each other, but rather with the neighbouring western ports like Antwerp and Rotterdam. It should be ultimate the goal of the involved federal states to permanently secure the attraction of the port location “German Coast” through a coordinated, trusted and predictable expansion policy. This should be achieved without creating overcapacities at ports, which only lie a few kilometres apart, and thus compromising the profitability of the invested infrastructure. Once port capacity has been created and handed over to the private sector for operation, the potential for cooperation of the federal states on this specific subject is exhausted. What remains is the possibility of dirigistic state regulatory measures, which are not a real option in our highly successful, liberal and market driven economic system. Naturally another key focus of this level of cooperation is that the federal government and the federal states work together concerning the sea- and land-based traffic connections to and from the ports.

On the second level, the state-owned port infrastructure operators such as Niedersachsen Ports, the Hamburg Port Authority, bremenports and others can cooperate. This can include for example the exchange or the shared use of equipment and technology as well as the general exchange of experiences. Here, too, added value can be created for the individual ports as well as for the complete North German port cluster.

The third level concerns the cooperation of the private terminal operators. This cooperation may be difficult, since companies are known to make a living by securing and expanding their market position and acquiring business for themselves without handing it over to their competitors for no apparent reason. In addition, any cooperation is usually closely watched over by cartel authorities. However, there are already good examples for port internal as well as cross-location cooperation. The first includes for example the joint cross-company cargo handling for a shared customer, or the joint implementation of general service facilities such as the Feeder Center and Nautical Terminal Coordination in Hamburg. Concerning cross-location cooperation, there might be the opportunity to allocate handling operations to different locations when terminal holding companies run branch operations in various ports, in order to make the best use of the ports’ capacities. Needless to say: all this of course needs the customer’s approval.

Which prerequisites do you think are essential for port cooperation?

The prerequisites, as for every cooperation, are for all involved parties to have a shared interest and a common goal. Dirigistic and one-sided measures that interfere with the open competition definitely do not belong here. However, sensible ways and possibilities to live successful port cooperation indeed exist.


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