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Port of Antwerp becomes the catalyst for the EU-India strategic partnership

Project cargo handled by the Zuid Natie terminal at the Port of Antwerp

Earlier this month, I was excited to read the highlights of the recently held EU-India leaders’ meeting that was virtually represented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and physically represented by the heads of state of the 27 EU member states, Charles Michel – President of the European Council, and Ursula von der Leyen- President of the European Commission in Portugal. I was wondering how some of the action points outlined can materialize. And then I literally visualized the Port of Antwerp playing a crucial role on multiple fronts to translate what is outlined on paper into practice. Some possibilities come to mind instantly.

A resilient healthcare and pharmaceuticals gateway

As EU and India collectively brainstorm on healthcare and vaccine focused solutions, Antwerp Port is just in time with its Good Distribution Practice (GDP) initiative which makes it the only seaport in the world to operate under the highest GDP standards for handling pharmaceutical and life sciences cargo. The Port thus becomes an exceptionally reliable supply chain partner, especially with the concept of an unbroken cold chain gaining prime importance in case of vaccines and other temperature sensitive pharmaceutical products.

As India continues to grapple with the requirement of medical grade oxygen, another possibility emerges for Antwerp Port to contribute. Recently, Germany’s Linde delivered liquid oxygen in tank containers by air freight to India. This can also be brought by container ships to India and further, to meet present and future demand, the Port could be a hub for components to set up oxygen production facilities. In handling such type of project cargo, the Port is second to none! Some very impressive huge project cargo movements have already taken place via to Port between this India-Europe corridor, be it parts for the HMEL refinery in Bathinda or dismantling a factory in France to set it up in Bangalore or metro rail parts for Hyderabad secured by L&T Metro Rail (Hyderabad) Limited from Tata Corus in France.

Creating a momentum for bilateral trade relations

Antwerp Port already plays a highly active role in trade facilitation via regular efforts to bring together stakeholders and players in addressing long-standing market access issues. Perishable’s trade, and in particular sea food trade, is one commodity that comes to mind where non-tariff entry barriers exist for Indian exports to the European market. Development of sea food trade is an area of interest because India not only has production capacity but also export capability.  Europe on the other hand has significant import appetite and presents an exciting market opportunity. Realizing this, awareness raising sessions have been organized by the Port of Antwerp in partnership with the Indian Embassy in Belgium, Luxembourg & Europe, and the Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA) on “Strengthening the India-EU sea food trade”. Efforts have gone a long way in acquainting the Indian exporters on regulations and standards expected for the European market, thereby generating momentum for developing trade across the corridor.

 

Decarbonizing industry, transport, accelerating the implementation of the new circular economy and resource efficiency partnership

To achieve a diminishing carbon footprint, one needs a vision and an action plan. The Port did this well by embedding energy transition as one of its 3 strategic priorities. It has further undertaken several projects in realizing long term aspirations of sustainability in energy usage, shipping, and industry development within its premise. The NextGen District, a dedicated parcel of land, that has been set up and is inviting applications from international companies with a focus on circular economy and green energy is a classic example. The new international consortium, PIONEERS, involving 46 partners (including port companies, terminal operators, transporters, and government agencies) and with the goal of making Europe’s ports greener is another example.

With India embracing the Port led industrialization model which brings together ports, shipping and industry, there remains tremendous scope in contributing to the sustainable development plans of existing and upcoming Indian ports. Already via the Port’s continually active consultancy arm, Port of Antwerp International (PAI), scoping studies on terminal efficiency, usage of inland waterways for cargo movement and port logistics projects in India have been executed.

Connectivity between the EU and India and with third countries and regions (including Africa, Central Asia, and the Indo-Pacific)

As India and Europe seek alternate corridors with third regions, parallel to the ambitious One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative, Antwerp Port’s strong pre-existing connections with Africa can come in to play. The Port through its subsidiary Port of Antwerp International (PAI), has demonstrated its seriousness in cementing strong ties with Africa by collaborating closely with the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), which manages six ports in Nigeria, and the port of Cotonou in Benin. PAI has supported the Port of Cotonou in modernizing its facilities and its expansion plans. Additionally, the regular sailings between Antwerp Port and African destinations, positions Antwerp as a reliable stocking option of goods destined for volatile markets like Africa. All in all, this pre-existing corridor can absolutely be leveraged.

PAI collaboration with the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to intensify presence in Western Africa

The private sector on both sides is not only excited about the outcomes of this dialogue but also perceives the Port of Antwerp as a crucial player.

Luisa Santos, Deputy Director General, Business Europe

The Deputy Director General of Business Europe, one of the co-organizers of the “EU-India Business Roundtable”, Ms. Luisa Santos quoted, “The relaunch of the trade negotiations during the EU-India Summit on 8 May is an essential step forward for both economies, as there is a huge untapped potential. The EU is India’s largest trading partner with about 11 percent of its total trade, worth around €80 billion, and the EU is India’s top foreign investor. Nevertheless, European companies face, for example, high tariffs for certain goods such as cars and spirits. The Antwerp Port, as one of Europe’s leading economic actors, will also contribute to reach this potential as a crucial link supporting India-Europe trade. Both sides should use this window of opportunity, based on our shared values, commitment to rules-based multilateralism, and benefit from mutual economic opportunities. We hope this positive momentum will be maintained and that the level of ambition will remain high throughout the negotiations.”

Mr. Rajiv Agarwal, CEO and MD, Essar Ports

Previously engaged in a joint venture with Antwerp Port, Mr. Rajiv Agarwal- CEO and MD of Essar Ports stated, “The India – EU strategic partnership meet is a key event to auger partnership towards sustainable and resilient economic growth especially in changing times. Port of Antwerp a strategic Gateway for Europe has always played a pivotal role in enhancing trade and in realizing the objectives. I hope India – EU partnership grows exponentially and reaches new heights in time to come.”
While Antwerp Port has already demonstrated during the recent global trade disrupting instances -the ongoing pandemic and Suez Canal blockage, that it remains undaunted and an able partner for Indian businesses, a bigger role can certainly be envisaged to enhance the EU-India cooperation.