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Tue 1 May 2007 12:38 PM

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Taking the initiative

With industry records being broken on a seemingly daily basis it's easy to get a rather inflated sense of achievement about the sea freight sector in the Middle East.

With industry records being broken on a seemingly daily basis it's easy to get a rather inflated sense of achievement about the sea freight sector in the Middle East.

Of course, the accomplishments of the companies who have made the region home are impressive, and the pace of development is startling to say the least.

However, it's always good to remain grounded and take a look at what's being achieved in the outside world, if for nothing else, longer established logistics centres probably give the clearest view of the regional sector in years to come.

It was with this in mind I accompanied a UAE freight and logistics delegation to Europe's second largest port city, Hamburg, to meet with local industry players and the Hamburg cluster management team. The port is tussling with Dubai's Jebel Ali for the eighth spot in the global top ten, and nobody at the conference seemed to have a definitive answer, indeed, both delegations were keen to claim it for themselves.

As the UAE sits at the heart of global east-west container trade, so too does Hamburg for European commerce. Situated centrally, its European hinterland reaches deep into the prosperous west, and the port is ideally positioned to take advantage of emerging eastern markets.

With the space surrounding Middle Eastern logistics facilities rapidly decreasing, it was a valuable experience to see how a city with ambitions to grow its logistics industry, yet constrained by the development around it, is looking to efficiency as the key to unlock its potential. The fully automated container handling facility at Altenwerder terminal may have been capital intensive to establish, but its double-digit throughput growth is testimony to the fact that space constraints are no longer the barrier to success they once were.

One thing that really struck me from the trip was the fierce pride residents of Hamburg take in their port. The largest commercial and residential property development in Europe is currently taking place on the waterfront of the harbour. The most prestigious office space and apartments overlook the busy commercial port and have all been snapped up.

On the day I departed the city was filling with excited residents. The prospect of a prestigious cruise ship departure was responsible for whipping up a frenzy around the port. Tens of thousands of eager spectators braved a windy evening to congregate around the port that is the beating heart of the city.

The value of the trip no doubt will bear fruit as the delegates returned back to their operations with a fresh view on how issues facing the global industry will impact the Middle East. For now, we are content to make hay whilst the sun shines, but challenges inevitably loom and only the most informed will prosper.

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