OECD Port-Cities Programme

Remarks Cathy Berx on the OECD report.

(download report)

My comments will focus on 3 points.

1. Main remark: the synthesis Report is very broad and interesting in the sense that it gives a lot, maybe too much, facts and figures and an enormous list or enumeration of ideas and measures from, for and by ports and policymakers from all over the world.

That strength is at the same time the weakness of the report. Moreover the finality and conclusions aren’t that clear. That effects the usefulness of the report as a whole and the recommendations in particular.

Is it in essence about:: how can ports become (stronger) drivers for urban development and economic growth or on the alleged problem of the mismatch (which is NOT a neutral word) between spill overs or positive externalities and the localization of negative impacts. 

 2. Some methodological remarks…

 3. The impact of the methodological shortcomings on the correctness and relevance of some main premises and allegations.

As mentioned, the report is very broad.
It is a bit about everything (an “encyclopedia”) , without a real and relevant focus. That makes the report rather anecdotic even in the conclusion. Under the titles “increasing economic benefits”  respectively “very brief mitigation negative impacts” one can find an enumeration  without a real conceptualization or appreciation of good and bad examples in different port and cityports (p. 153-154). The report and conclusion do not really transcend the facts and figures. I miss clear focus and some “relief” or clearer distinction between what really matters or makes a difference and what is more detail. A clearer focus and good written definition of the main aim and finality would certainly have led to an even more relevant report. If this is a synthesis Report, how does the complete report(s) look like? J.

1. Main methodological remarks/suggestions

As mentioned the report is rather, for me far too, anecdotic. Many issues and perspectives are tackled. But at the same time essential perspectives are – without any good reason – neglected.

a)   Hardly any attention has been paid to the policy of the EU nor to the new policy vision of the EU (cf. Memo of May 2013 and the regulation proposal on port activities). If that is the case for the EU-policy it is certainly also the case for other comparable (if any) international/supranational bodies anywhere else in the world.

b)   At many places I discovered differences in visions and premises of the EU on the one hand and of the OECD on the other. Of course those premises should not be the same. At least they deserved some attention and explanation. Especially because they concern important issues.

i. I had the –to contradict – impression that the OECD takes a bit too much a zero/sum stead of a win/win perspective between different ports.
ii. OECD focusses more on repartition of market share stead of the perspective of expected growth
iii. OECD sees an ongoing tendency of port CONCENTRATION, whereas the EU emphasizes the importance of de-concentration and the necessity of the merge and development of new ports. This might be a big challenge for the state of the art leading ports of the EU of today.
iv. Sometimes a black versus white caricature is made of some so presented contradictions (e.g. table 43).
v.  The MOST important methodological shortcoming according to me is the fact that ports and cityports are considered and viewed at in a very isolated way without paying attention to their (inter) connectivity or the broader context. That narrow point of view is not without consequences. I believe that the report would have been much stronger if it was written with relevant recent books on globalization, shift of power…as frame of reference. And if the author would have integrated the insights and new ways of appreciating the world and the importance of cross-pollination, sharing of views, win-win, synergy creation…

Consequences of the methodological shortcomings

The methodological shortcomings affect the conclusions and lead to some contestable statements.

e.g. and I quote: “This report has confirmed a mismatch between benefits and negative impacts. Substantial benefits from ports were identified but they come with considerable leakages to other regions, whereas most of the negative effects of ports are localized, including environmental effects and most traffic impacts” (p. 150).

a) Is it really a problem that a port also or even in huge extend generates added value for and in a larger region or even in another country?

Not in my view! I’m not an adept of  - I reframe a bit- “regional selfishness”. Especially not in a globalized/ glocalized world characterized by interconnectivity of regions, shared challenges, the importance of networking and of the sharing of knowledge and ideas. I believe we should think as much as possible in terms of win-win, sharing of ideas, collaboration to achieve a common goal, urge for synergy and a good balanced advantage of scale.

“90% of the supplier links would be outside the port regions”. Think the opposite: what if 10% of the supplier links and spill overs were out and 90% were in the port city…Maybe that would be too much in the sense that such a port city would not be able to provide the port with every resource it reasonably needs for an optimal functioning or performance and/or would not be able to absorb all the added value created by the port in an optimal way. This goes especially for smaller cities, regions and countries. More over some spill overs might compensate each other: the port of Antwerp creates spill overs in the Netherlands. The port of R’dam in Flanders/Antwerp.

Probably more important:   positive spill overs can and will broaden the support for indispensable investments in infrastructure and innovation crucial for the development of the ports creating positive spill overs.

To be more concrete:

  • if the “Central Plan Bureau” of the Netherlands did not prove that the deepening of the river Scheldt, so crucial for the maritime accessibility and the optimal functioning of the port of Antwerp –the main competitor of the port of R’dam -  also contributes a lot to the economy of the Netherlands and is not just in the interest of Antwerp, Flanders and Belgium, we might still discuss the issue.
  • If the European Union invests a lot in railroad and corridors infrastructure (23 billion EUR from to start in 2014) and inland waterways, than it is done for the same reasons: the advantages of performing and good working ports have an impact and importance that transcend the port or portcity or – region.

è spill overs from ports to other regions enlarge the support and co-finance for capital intensive infrastructure that by creating a better modal shift is not only beneficial for the development of the port but also for the broader community.

è spill overs may also contribute to shared efforts in investments in the interest of security and civil safety (pipelines, procedures…).

  • The same applies for environment. First of all, it is widely accepted that environmental effects of economic activity is seldom restricted or located in the region of the activity: Greenhouse gases don’t care about borders!

è thanks to the support of the EU regions, ports and companies work together on innovative projects to improve environment or to obtain ambitious targets in the field of renewables. Thanks to ERFD (European Regional Fund for Development) projects were realized in Antwerp together with regions in the Netherlands on Hydrogyn, open multimodal container terminal in Antwerp…

To conclude: spill overs or positive externalities contain probably more possibilities for the strengthening of assets and for problem solutions – in the sense of synergies, advantages of scale, smart logistics, traffic guidance systems, smart taxation, the internalization of externalities… than that they can be considered as problems! Although it also might enlarge the challenge to gain and keep the necessary support in the community.

The importance of a case study for the port of Antwerp
I firmly believe that it is always very interesting to have a firm and good, evidence based outside-in analysis of the main port of a region, which is for good reasons considered as the engine of the welfare and added value creator of our city, province, region and country.

Best case scenario it would provide the port and the region with an independent, good argued and interesting insight in the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and treats of the port and region so that every stakeholder, in a context of good multilevel governance and actor understands and knows better which preconditions and measures are needed to consolidate and/or improve the performance of the port with the less negative impact or even better extra benefits for the larger region. A good example might be the use of “restheat” of the port and port embedded industry to heat the houses and buildings in a certain radius of the port.

This remarks and suggestions do not derogate the fact that the report and overview of best practices is very relevant for policy makers to improve the prerequisites and preconditions for a good and balanced development of the (integrated) economy in general and of “their” port in particular.

The relevance of the study for the Flemish Dutch network partnership?
I think that the added value and relevance of the study could have been much bigger if she would have focused the real challenge: optimization of all the possibilities of synergies and advantages of scale: how to exploit them in the best but not naïve way so that a unique combination of competition and cooperation would lead to a real win-win as well for the ports as for the entire Deltaregion. It could have focused more on the identification of shared strengths of ports, portcities and their surrounding regions.

I believe the study would be more relevant and used more if it contained less but better and more focused information, analyzed in a more profoundly. On the other hand the report contains interesting information in combination with our “Deltamonitor”. This modular expandable Delta monitor annually measures the progress and growth of the Delta based Ports upon various key indicators such as 1. Maintaining position of the global hub; 2. Solid and sustainable intermodal hinterland network and connections; 3. one sustainable efficient and knowledge driven petrochemical complex at world scale; 4. A sustainable and biobased chemical and energy system…Also in the Deltaregion positive spill overs but also impacts beyond borders urge for cross-border cooperation in which governments are involved as well to weigh the interest of the port development and other common goods and values. Governments must indeed guarantee the reconciliation of the legitimate interests, functions and claims in a very dense area where soil is scarce: port, industry, agriculture, open space, quality of life, safety and security, an healthy environment…more and more reconciliation is guaranteed and realized by the maximization of interweaving of functions and activities and the multifunctional use of scarce resources.