And speaking of last week’s meeting of the European Ministers of Transport, Ron Widdows, the CEO of APL, was the first private sector speaker to address this group in its 54-year history.
Mr. Widdows reminded those ministers that transportation infrastructure in many parts of the world cannot keep pace with the growth of international trade, and he suggested that massive investments to modernize and expand the transport system in an environmentally sensitive way would be required in order to avoid risking slower economic growth and increasing supply chain costs.
“Governments, shippers, transportation providers — we must all do, and pay, our fair share. We must all contribute ideas. And we must expect that it will take a long time.” Everyone with a stake in global trade has a role to play, he said.
“Because of the highly interconnected and integrated nature of the systems that today service international trade,” he said, “we need a consistent worldwide approach to implement solutions. Congestion in any major part of the world’s supply chain has global reverberations.”
One of the first to wave caution flags, Mr. Widdows has been urging the industry to address troublesome port, rail and highway chokepoints that have slowed down the delivery of goods and brought about increased supply chain costs. More than three years ago, in fact, Mr. Widdows expressed his exasperation with the international maritime community with these words;
“Terminal capacity and rail capacity worldwide are growing more slowly than vessel capacity. The rail infrastructure is a critical problem … Trade is growing at 10 percent a year. Where are we going to have the capacity to handle that? What does supply and demand matter if I can’t get my ship alongside a berth?”
World governments, he insisted, must take steps to improve crumbling or capacity-strained freight infrastructure if growth in global trade is to continue to sustain global economy. By 2010, he predicted, global container volumes will be double the levels of 2000.
In order to deal with critical transport bottlenecks, Mr. Widdows once again reminded maritime authorities at the European Ministers conference that the following deficiencies must be addressed:
• The urgent need for emerging economies in India and Vietnam to build and expand ports and inland road and railway infrastructure.
• In the leading consumer economies — Europe and the U.S. — the urgent need for expansion and greater efficiency at ports.
• The need for Europe in particular to find a way for rail transport to play a larger role because trucks, presently the primary mode for inland transport, tend to create congestion on the roads and negatively impact the environment.
The industry continues to ignore this man’s advice, but one of these days he’ll say, “I told you so!”