x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Ports power in UAE to strengthen trade links

The UAE is fast becoming a seaborne trade superpower following a raft of investments in new infrastructure and shipping capacity.

A man walks past the DP World display at the World Ports and Trade Summit in Abu Dhabi yesterday. Christopher Pike / The National
A man walks past the DP World display at the World Ports and Trade Summit in Abu Dhabi yesterday. Christopher Pike / The National

The UAE is on a fast track to dominate global seaborne trade as a raft of new port infrastructure is delivered.

Sultan Al Mansouri, the Minister of Economy, said yesterday at the World Ports & Trade Summit in Abu Dhabi that the country was poised to further increase trade ties with emerging economies.

"We have built a world-class infrastructure in ports and logistics," said Mr Al Mansouri. "By increasing the capacities of our ports, the UAE is now in a position to handle the rapidly increasing trade levels from the emerging markets.

"By 2050 four of the top five economies will come from the developing world - China, India, Brazil and Russia. These markets are projected to account for 45 per cent of global output by 2025, according to IMF estimates. With its strategic geographical location between East and West, the UAE is a hub for global trade and a vital gateway to those emerging markets."

As a result of its ports investment, the UAE is now the world's third largest re-export market. It has nine working seaports, and its flagship, Jebel Ali, is the largest container terminal between Rotterdam and Singapore.

The country is the leading shipping and ports player in the Middle East and North Africa, and fifth in the world, according to this year's Doing Business Report from the World Bank.

The UAE's trade policy had helped it emerge from the global economic downturn, and Mr Al Mansouri called on the industry to follow its lesson.

"We have managed to weather the challenges of the global downturn and our economy is on course," he said. "Trade routes are the global economy's circulatory system and a well-oiled maritime industry keeps the circulation smooth and efficient. I call upon the ports and shipping industry to invest in more innovative technology."

As well as trade, the nation's ports policy had also helped to foster the country's growing industrial base, as demonstrated by Abu Dhabi's new Khalifa Port, and Kizad, the giant industrial zone it will serve, he added.

Tourism is also being served with the development of new cruise liner terminals, which in turn will bring more jobs to the region.

These advances and the need to share lessons have made summits such as the current one essential, said Mr Al Mansouri.

"This is an event close to my heart because it is linked to our maritime heritage and the foundations of the UAE as a seafaring nation," he added. "I feel a sense of pride and satisfaction that we have one of the best port infrastructures in the world, capable of accommodating the most modern mega-ships."

While the UAE prospers, other regions continue to struggle as higher bunker fuel prices hit trade.

"In this global economy, with soaring bunker prices, an oversupply of vessels and refineries producing less marine product, it's fair to say that many bottom lines are suffering," said Grant Gilfillan, the vice president of the International Association of Ports and Harbours, which represents 200 ports in 85 countries.

"All of us understand the issues that go hand-in-hand with high fuel costs. I can recall being deeply concerned when Singapore bunker prices hit US$172 a tonne ten years ago. Now they are $640 a tonne. We all know that for shipping lines, this is not sustainable.

"A part of the answer is more efficient ports. The faster a port can turn a ship around, and do so with predictable regularity, means better cost containment for the shipping lines."