Widdows takes case for freight infrastructure to European ministers
World governments need to take seriously the need to improve crumbling or capacity-constrained freight infrastructure if growth in global trade is to continue to sustain the global economy, Ron Widdows, chief executive officer of container line APL, told European transport ministers Monday.
Widdows has spent the past two years pressing the U.S. government to address port, rail and highway chokepoints that are slowing the delivery of goods and increasing costs to businesses at a time of growing urban congestion and trade volumes. This week, he took his message to the European Conference of Ministers of Transport, which is meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria, to address the issue of congestion and its impact on global trade.
“Because of the highly interconnected and integrated nature of the systems that today service international trade, we need a consistent worldwide approach to implement solutions,' Widdows said, according to excerpts of his speech distributed by APL. 'Congestion in any major part of the world's supply chain has global reverberations.”
Widdows told the leaders that transportation infrastructure in many parts of the world can’t keep pace with international growth in trade. By 2010, he said, global container volumes will be double the level of 2000.
The APL executive called for massive investment to modernize and expand the transport system in an environmentally sensitive way or risk slower economic growth as supply chain costs increase and companies reconsider their strategies of sourcing products from around the world.
Infrastructure bottlenecks are already having an impact on trade flows and are only expected to get worse. Widdows said that in the first quarter of 2007, only 46 percent of container vessels arrived at ports on time — the lowest level of record. At the Port of Rotterdam, only 35 percent of vessels arrived on time and at European ports overall, less than 30 percent of vessels arrived on time.
Emerging and developed economies both face urgent needs to expand port, rail and highway connectors and inland routes, he said. Vietnam and India, in particular, have pressing needs to keep their economic booms going, and Europe needs to find a way for railroads to play a greater role in freight transport to alleviate road congestion and air pollution, Widdows said.
Widdows is the first private sector speaker to address the group in its 54-year history. Representatives from Canada, Mexico, Japan, the United States and the United Nations are also attending the forum.