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Master Of The Sea

The time has come for Indian ports to learn the ropes and seize opportunities the way our software giants have

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China is today the master of the global supply chain. Half the top 20 ports in the world are in China and 66 per cent of all container traffic moves through Chinese controlled ports. Maritime trade accounts for 90 per cent of world trade, reports Visual Capitalist and China contributes more than half of  it today. This hegemony needs to end for competition to survive.

East Asia, predominantly China, monopolises maritime activity, despite being a late entrant. Among the top 20 ports, three are in the European Union, two in Malaysia and one each in the United States, Japan, Korea, Singapore and the UAE. No Indian port is in the list. Shanghai heads the list with a capacity of 37 million TEU, five times that of the biggest Japanese port, four times that of  the Los Angeles port, three times the size of the biggest EU port at Rotterdam and twice as big as it’s own Guangzhou port. It’s massive size allows it to control maritime activity worldwide.
How do you expand trade if you have no large ports? India needs to build up its port capacity to at least 7.6 million TEU (twenty-foot equivalent unit) to match up to the port capacity of Japan, which ranks 20th in the world.  To emerge as the second largest economy by 2030 in purchasing power parity (ppp) terms, India will require rapid, effective and efficient enlargement of port strengths. India needs to plan its JNPT far more professionally to make its presence felt. It must also support the development of Greenfield private ports fully to count in the world maritime market.

Shanghai grew 71 per cent in the last ten years. No Indian port grew by even 20 per cent in the last decade and dwell time problems continue at most Indian ports. Large-scale mechanisation is imperative, especially in container traffic for seamless cargo movement and lower transaction costs. Customs has to innovate and fully integrate its IT systems with the port and the Director General of Foreign Trade. The Prime Minister’s Office must see the larger picture and ensure that different wheels of maritime trade work in unison. Port infra development can make or mar India’s chances of entering the big league of nations.

The largest shipping line in the world is Maersk from Denmark. A large proportion of nearly 300 million TEUs is transported to the top 50 ports annually by Maersk, reports Visual Capitalist. Chinese firms have not been able to dislodge Maersk. The Shipping Corporation of India has not been able to capitalise on global opportunities and expand in scale and size. With a 7,000-km-long coastline, India needs to tap its huge potential and win a place for itself in the maritime world expeditiously. 

The time has come for Indian ports to learn the ropes and seize opportunities just the way our software giants have. Private ports are doing well in India and all major PSU ports are also bracing themselves up, but an entire maritime strategy needs to be put in place for India to be able to rise to the occasion. A phase-wise expansion and resolution of  long-standing issues is necessary for this sector, which is aching and needs fast moving solutions for its myriad problems. Civil aviation has got off  to a flying start. Shipping too has to sail home soon for delays would jeopardise our trade and commerce significantly. The captain of the ship has to use his compass effectively.     

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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J.K. Dadoo

The author is a retired IAS officer

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