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GCC ports to address challenge facing $7.3bn logistics sector

GCC ports to address challenge facing $7.3bn logistics sector
The tightrope between booming trade demand and current overall port capacity in the Middle East, as witnessed by growth of 15.4% since 2013, will headline a panel discussion at the Seatrade Middle East Maritime conference in October.

Multi-billion dollar investment into the Middle East's ports and plans for GCC-wide multimodal transportation systems are well underway, however the immediate challenge of logistics management is occupying the minds of port owners and operators across the Middle East as trade demand outpaces physical expansion.

According to the Agility Logistics Emerging Markets Index 2014, the Gulf countries, along with Jordan, are riding high in the table of international locations offering favourable conditions for business and trade. In this year's index, Saudi Arabia climbed one place to third spot, with the UAE at number six followed by Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain at 12, 13, 18 and 22 respectively.

This has been achieved as a result of ongoing committed infrastructure spend, with the index also noting that Qatar and Oman, joined by Chile, make up an 'elite' group as small economies that are outperforming both their peers and larger emerging economies based on the strength of their accessibility, vibrant service sectors and world-class transportation infrastructure.

"The GCC has at least 35 major ports and is pursuing an ambitious expansion strategy as the logistics sector, and burgeoning non-oil trade, continue their growth trajectory to further position the region, and its key ports, as a global hub for trade between Europe, Africa and Asia," said Chris Hayman, chairman of Seatrade, organiser of Seatrade Middle East Maritime, which takes place in Dubai from 28-30 October 2014.

In 2013, the UAE's non-oil trade grew by 5% to $435bn with the Federal Customs Authority (FCA) reporting total trade exports registering around $50bn in 2013 with re-exports growing by 11% to touch $121bn.

"Global container movements are not slowing down and the order book for ultra-large container vessels is also growing, so this is where regional infrastructure investment has had to rewrite the book in terms of new operational requirements and the development of an integrated network of next generation facilities in order to handle the estimated $35bn value of the GCC logistics sector," added Hayman.

In addition to approximately $36bn-worth of sector investment, regional economies are set to benefit from the proposed GCC rail network, which will connect key locations from Saudi Arabia to Oman.

Industry estimates suggest that with port expansion programmes reportedly set to increase regional capacity to more than 65m teu by 2016, new industrials zones such as the $7.2bn phased Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (KIZAD) and Jebel Ali's recently debuted Terminal 3, with its connectivity to the Dubai World Central super-hub, already providing welcome relief and much-needed facilities.

The expansion tally includes Abu Dhabi's Khalifa Port, with its $5m terminal scheduled to open in 2015; Oman's $4bn Sohar Industrial Zone which will be linked to the GCC rail network, and the $143m sea-air hub expansion at Salalah.

Saudi Arabia is active with a series of ongoing projects including the $750m second terminal at Dammam's King Abdulaziz Port; two further terminals totaling $40m for King Fahd Industrial Port in Al Jubail; and the soon-to-be-unveiled Portside Logistics Facility at Jubail Commercial Port.

In Qatar, the new $7bn mega-port located close to Mesaieed Industrial Zone will be up-and-running in 2016 while Kuwait's contentious $1.2bn, 60-berth Mubarak Al-Kabir seaport (Boubyan) is reportedly set to be privatised according to a Kuwait Financial Center (Markaz) report.