By Theo van de Kletersteeg

Executives from Antwerp Port Authority (APA) recently visited Port of Montreal as part of the Port’s North American “roadshow”.

Situated 80 kilometres inland from the North Sea on the Schelde river, Port of Antwerp is the second largest port in Europe, after Rotterdam. In 2011, it handled 187 million tonnes of cargo, consisting of 105 million tonnes of containerized cargo (an all-time record), 46 million tonnes of liquid bulk, 19 million tonnes of dry bulk, 13 million tonnes of conventional breakbulk, and 4 million tonnes of RoRo. Containerized cargo carried in 8.6 million TEUs.

Trade between North America and Europe passing through Antwerp consists of 20 million tonnes of cargo annually, with 4.9 million tonnes of that volume represented by traffic to or from Canada. Antwerp is responsible for 36 per cent of all container traffic between Europe and North America, while Bremen holds a 26-per-cent market share in that trade route, and Rotterdam 21 per cent.

As for cargoes between Montreal and Antwerp, tonnage originating from Montreal to Antwerp amounted to 1.6 million tonnes, with 85 per cent of that traffic containerized. Traffic in the opposite direction amounted to 17.9 million tonnes, with 98 per cent of that tonnage containerized. With almost 285,000 TEUs carried between Montreal and Antwerp, approximately 20 per cent of all containers handled at the port of Montreal came from or left for Antwerp. MSC is the principal carrier of containerized cargo between Montreal and Antwerp. Fednav provides scheduled cargo liner service carrying steel products, project cargo and breakbulk between several European ports, including Antwerp, and a number of ports along the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes.

The Schelde estuary was dredged in 2010-2011 to permit navigation to a draught of 16 metres, allowing a vessel like the Edith Maersk (15,550 TEU) to call on the port. In fact, during 2011, Antwerp received 141 calls from container ships with a capacity in excess of 10,000 TEUs.

One of the factors underpinning Antwerp’s success is its ability to transfer to and from other forms of transportation to get cargo to its destination as rapidly as possible. The port is connected to an extensive network of pipelines, inter-European highways, rail lines and canals to get cargoes to their destinations, or to receive cargoes from their points of origin. The Port promotes the idea that 60 per cent of European purchasing power is within 500 kilometres from Antwerp.

Another factor has been the value-adding clusters of transformation and distribution on its property of more than 32,000 acres. The most important of these, and the largest in Europe, is a cluster of refineries and petrochemical complexes that all feed off each other to create different products in a value chain that starts with crude oil, and ends with the creation of numerous high-tech petrochemical products. This complex is home to such well-known companies as Total, Exxon-Mobil, Fina, Solvay, BASF, Bayer, Praxair and numerous others.

The Port is also host to six steel service centres, three automobile processing centres and two million square metres of temperature-controlled storage space.

As part of the presentations, Flanders Investment and Trade, an agency of the government of Flanders, made a presentation promoting investment opportunities in Flanders and export opportunities from Flanders. Flanders was said to be responsible for 83.1 per cent of all of Belgium’s exports. As part of this presentation, the audience was advised that Canada’s positive balance of trade with Belgium has experienced strong growth during the past few years, growing from a surplus of $448 million in 2009 to $722 million in 2011. The largest single contributor to this growth was exportation of diamonds from the Northwest Territories which were valued at $821 million in 2011.

There are two important aspects of the business operated by Gemeentelijk Havenbedrijf Antwerpen (literally translated as “Municipal Port Enterprise Antwerp”, but known in English as Antwerp Port Authority), which bear consideration in terms of comparisons with ports operated in Canada by the federal government: First, Eddy Bruyninckx, CEO, revealed that the Port is owned by the City of Antwerp. This integration has taken many decades to develop. However, at the end of the day, with the economic fortunes of the City and the Port so closely integrated, the pressure has been on to perform, and to do this in strong competition with other European ports.

The increased competition has enabled Port of Antwerp to become a leader in the business of operating ports efficiently which, in turn, has allowed it to export this know-how. APA operates Port of Antwerp International, which provides consultancy services (mostly in Africa and Asia), port planning, traffic flow analysis, quality assessments and improvements, and productivity improvements. Initial engagements may ultimately lead to taking direct or indirect equity interests in overseas ports. For example, in 2012 APA paid $31 million for a 4 per cent stake in Essar Ports, a subsidiary of Essar Group. In addition, through the Port’s APEC subsidiary, APA provides middle management training services to overseas ports. Again, increased familiarity with training clients may ultimately result in an equity interest in the overseas Port.