10-10-2017

Antwerp Port ‘ready’ to make India call, again

Antwerp Port Authority, the entity that runs Europe’s second largest port on the river Scheldt, will consider lending its expertise in strategic planning, development and management to a greenfield port in India, where it could even make a small equity investment when the right opportunity arises.

“What we are doing in other parts of the world, we can do that, whenever asked, in India,” Marc Van Peel, President, Antwerp Port Authority, told BusinessLine during a meeting at the imposing new port house, Zaha Hadidplein, named after the late Iraqi-British architect and designer, Zaha Mohammad Hadid.

Port of Acu

Port of Antwerp International (PAI), a unit of Antwerp Port Authority, signed an agreement for the development of the Port of Acu, a privately owned port complex in the northern part of Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro state, which started the first phase of operations in 2014.

“There we were asked to do the strategic planning and also to manage the port,” said Van Peel.

The agreement tasked Antwerp Port Authority with the development of the port, including a strategy to attract industries and other logistics players to the facility. The Port Authority also picked a small stake of 1.176 per cent in the new port at an investment of $10 million.

“The equity stake is small, but it is more than symbolic. It proves our long-term commitment and involvement in the port. We feel as a co-owner and co-developer of the Port of Acu. They can use the Port of Antwerp brand in all their commercial development and it appears to be a successful formula,” said Jacques Vandermeiren, the CEO of the Port Authority.

PAI had earlier invested in developing a new port at Duqm in Oman to position it as an alternative to Salalah.

‘We believe in India’

“We are actively looking at other places, for instance in West Africa,” said Vandermeiren.

He added that the Port Authority does not intend to pick up stakes in several ports in the same region, as that would be “counter-productive” to being a “committed and involved partner”. “But India, for instance, is a country that is well-known to us and a country we believe in. If there is a proposal coming from a greenfield port and where we feel we are comfortable with, we will certainly look at it,” said Vandermeiren. He will make his first visit to India in November after taking over as CEO in January.

In 2012, PAI invested Rs. 175 crore on a long-term strategic alliance with Essar Ports Ltd. The pact was scrapped in 2015 and PAI sold the shares back to Essar Ports, making “some money” from the exit.

According to port industry sources, Antwerp Port Authority is focussing on countries and markets to offer consultancy services, strategic planning and management, and will even pick up small stakes to help grow volumes.

For instance, more than 6.4 million tonnes of freight are exchanged on an annual basis between Brazil, the largest economy of Latin America, and the Port of Antwerp, making it a key maritime trading partner.

Similarly, 6.3 million tonnes of freight was shipped between India and Antwerp Port in 2016. In the first three quarters of calendar year 2017, the cargo volume with India has gone up by nearly 10 per cent.

The essence of taking a small stake in a new port in a country like India is that instead of employing a very expensive consulting firm, Antwerp will bring accumulated knowledge of port operations at no cost to the country, a port industry source said.

“It will bring in all the investors who have invested in Antwerp to look at what they are doing here. So, there will be a comfort level. It will attract the attention of a more diverse portfolio of investors,” he added.

(This correspondent was in Antwerp at the invitation of the Antwerp Port Authority)

Source: The Hindu Business Line

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