MONTREAL, Que. — Already the leading European gateway for maritime container trade across the Atlantic with Canada, the Port of Antwerp sees strong potential for further growth in the coming years – especially in cargo flows to and from Montreal because of its close proximity to the industrial heartland of North America. An important catalyst would be the projected free trade agreement currently at an advanced stage of negotiations between Canada and the European Union.
“We definitely see new opportunities that will arise,” Eddy Bruyninckx, president and CEO of the Antwerp Port Authority, said in an interview with CT&L while passing through Montreal in early October during a port trade mission that also included Chicago and Houston.
Negotiators from Brussels and Ottawa are striving to conclude a final agreement by the end of this year. Among other things, the free trade pact would give Canadian exporters tariff-free access to a continental market of 500 million consumers in 27 countries.
Container cargo in both directions between Montreal and Antwerp totaled nearly 285,000 TEUs in 2011. This means that approximately 20% of all containers handled at Montreal are coming from or going to Antwerp.
Situated on the Scheldt River 80 kms inland from the North Sea, Antwerp enjoys an exceptionally central location – with its docks connected to a rich hinterland by rail, road and waterway.
The second biggest European port after Rotterdam, Antwerp is the leading European port in the container trade with all of North America, holding a 36% market share versus 26% for Bremen and 21% for Rotterdam.
In 2011, the port handled 187 million tonnes of cargo, representing a 5% increase over the previous year. Container freight dominates overall volume at 105 million tonnes, or 56% of total throughput. This translated into a record 8.6 million TEUs.
The other categories of importance are , in descending order, liquid bulk, dry bulk , conventional breakbulk and ro/ro.
More than 15,000 seagoing ships visited the port in 2011. Montreal-based Fednav’s FALLine service with the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence system uses Antwerp as its European hub due notably to its significant breakbulk operations (largest in Europe).
An impressive volume of barge traffic with Europe’s extensive inland waterway – nearly 90 million tonnes annually – also passes through Antwerp. This involves some 60,000 barge movements.
Despite the recent entry of a number of Eurozone economies into revived recession territory, Antwerp managed to record a small growth in container business in the first half of 2012.
Bruyninckx attributes the port’s continued strong performance, in part, to last year’s completion of a substantial dredging program. The channel deepening has allowed ultra-large containerships with a draught of up to 16 metres (53 feet) to call at Antwerp since early 2011. For instance, the biggest box vessel to call has been the Edith Maersk , with an estimated capacity of 15,500 TEUs.
“I am convinced that this greater accessibility will help us improve our position in Far East trade services from the present 12 compared to 28 for Rotterdam,” Bruyninckx affirmed.
Other key elements contributing to the port’s competitiveness, he said, are a productivity performance of 38 crane movements per hour on average and terminal-handling charges that are among the lowest in Europe.
Meanwhile, to meet future demand, the Antwerp Port Authority has earmarked an area of more than 1,000 hectares on the left bank for maritime and logistics activities, including the construction of a new tidal container dock.