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Tides of change for logistics industry

Cool Logistics Global gets underway with a look at how far the industry has come and where it is going

Tides of change for logistics industry

Joachim Coens, president and chief executive of Port of Zeebrugge

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Change has been a key constant in the logistics sector over the past decade, with this trend only set to intensify over the coming ten years.

This was the verdict of expert speakers at this morning’s opening session of Cool Logistics Global in Bruges, Belgium.

Conference moderator Thomas Eskesen, founder of Eskesen Advisory, helped frame the session with a comparison of the size and type of vessels used across the industry.

“It’s hard to think that just 10 years ago the largest vessels were carrying 8,700 TEUs,” Eskesen explained. “Now we’re seeing vessels with a capacity of over 20,000 TEUs.”

Eskesen added that it has not just been the scale of the industry that has shifted but also attitudes within it.

“Ten years ago tracking and tracing was not a big issue… now people want real-time updates on the status and location of their container,” he said. “Shipping companies saying we can’t provide this sort of service; it just doesn’t happen anymore.”

Joachim Coens, president and chief executive of Port of Zeebrugge, pointed out that as transport and logistics providers bid to meet a wide-range of customer needs, there is more room for diversification within the sector. From this perspective, Coens believes small-scale service providers will continue to have a role to play alongside the industry’s conglomerates.

“Not being a large industrial port has its disadvantages and advantages (for Port of Zeebrugge),” Coens said. “We market ourselves as a clean port and some companies are really looking for this. For example, when apples travel 10,000km from one part of the world to the other, you can’t have them arriving in a polluted port. There is a need for small providers to fill specific niches.”

One niche component of the industry remains the rail link between Europe and Asia. Paul Bosch, a food and agriculture supply analyst with Rabobank, flagged the prospect of increased trade along the route as transit times shorten.

“At the moment it takes around 15 days by train from Europe to China,” Bosch noted. “In 15 years this could be down to 8 or 9 days.”

When questioned about the viability of the trans-continent train service for perishable products, Bosch highlighted substantial investments are being made to improve infrastructure en route.

“I’m the first to admit there are significant challenges to be overcome; the size and volume capacity of the trains need to be increased,” he said. “What we are seeing is cities along the route investing in storage and capacity to position themselves as trade hubs. Both the Russian and Chinese governments see logistics as an industry that supports their GDP and other industries surrounding them.”

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