Karel Stransky, Director of Corporate Solutions, EMEA at Colliers International, commented:

“New sea routes into Europe from Asia mean the infrastructure is having to expand alongside the ever growing trade.  On the Mediterranean and Adriatic Sea for example, new port facilities will allow container ships taking the Suez Canal route to deliver more directly to Central and Eastern Europe.  Goods will reach their destination much faster than if they went via the Rotterdam or Hamburg routes, with a time advantage of between 5-7 days.

“This is the key area where we are likely to see the most growth.  Ports such as Koper and Trieste will become critical when serving Eastern Europe as the region starts to play a bigger part in the global supply chain.”

However, it is not all bad news for the more traditional Western European ports.  Colliers points to the fact that almost 60% of all European container tonnage still passes through just four ports:  Rotterdam, Antwerp, Bremerhaven and Hamburg, and many of the major European ports, such as Rotterdam, do have major expansion plans in place.  With the development of ever larger cargo ships, those ports with the facilities to handle them will be well placed to increase market share, as trans-continental sea routes become increasingly concentrated around these select ports. 

Other key findings from the report are outlined below:

  • Sea freight will remain the dominant mode for Europe’s external trade for a very long time to come.  Other transport modes simply cannot compete with its scale and efficiency.
  • Air freight is still a key player in external trade. However the major western airports are running out of capacity and with opposition mounting against expansion to the major commercial hubs (eg. Heathrow), and the environmental cost of such activity, it is not an area likely to see dramatic growth.
  • Conversely, due to the current lack of activity in Eastern Europe’s airports, there may be some expansion in this region as the demand for, and the production of, high value goods starts to increase as these countries move up the development path.
  • One notable area of growth – or at least an area where the EU would like to encourage growth – is rail.  From an environmental perspective it is the most friendly, and it can prove extremely cost efficient over long distances. 
  • The down side to any dramatic growth in rail freight is differing rail gauges in key links in the chain such as Russia.  The lack of capacity and speed in much of Europe’s network also acts as a break. 
  • Colliers does believe that rail transportation will gain market share, but only gradually and only when infrastructure developments come online.