As part of its Year of Logistics, AmCham Belgium presented its new report The Importance of US Companies in Belgium: Logistics on June 5, 2018, at the Port House in Antwerp, during an event focused on the importance of Antwerp as a logistics hub for the chemical industry. A panel of experts discussed the added value of clusters, competitive advantages and the challenges for the future of the logistics sector in Belgium.
The strong presence of international chemical companies in and around Antwerp, the close connections to the sea and hinterland, a dense transport network of roads, railways and inland waterways, and the presence of a skilled and specialized workforce have made the Port of Antwerp a world-leading logistics hub for the chemical and petrochemical industry.
In the coming years, companies in Europe will focus on two priorities, explained moderator Jan Desmaretz, Senior Manager Strategic Investment Decisions at PwC: cost reduction and further growth within Europe. The chemical industry will be driven by integration, horizontally, as a result of mergers and acquisitions between competitors, and vertically, through increased collaboration along the supply chain. The Port of Antwerp is uniquely placed to be at the center of this integration trend.
This message was echoed by VUB Professor Elvira Haezendonck, specialized in sustainable strategies and management for ports. According to her research on the competitive advantages of the Port of Antwerp, there are two main reasons for the Port’s success as a logistics gateway. First, companies looking to invest in Antwerp can rely on a state-of-the-art infrastructure and superstructure of warehouses in the port area. Second, the cluster developed in and around the port continues to grow, offering a wide range of value-added services to companies.
The importance of Antwerp for global supply chains was repeated by Koen Van Doren, Supply Chain Compliance & Projects Manager at Chevron Phillips Chemicals International, and Annick Meerschman, Logistics Director at The Dow Chemical Company. Both companies have chosen the Port of Antwerp as the primary European hub for their logistics operations. The operational excellence of the logistics service providers in the Antwerp area is a key attraction for chemical companies, which are driven by the highest standards of safety, quality and service.
The Port of Antwerp’s strong position in Europe and the world is, however, also facing certain challenges. Increased congestion is not only making it difficult for companies to move their products in and out of the port area but also to attract talent. Without investments in sustainable mobility solutions, the cluster risks losing some of its attractiveness.
According to Xavier Vanrolleghem, responsible for developing the oil and chemicals clusters at the Port of Antwerp, investment in big data is needed to help overcome the challenges. The data already exists, but due to questions about governance, ownership and interoperability, companies remain reluctant to share their data. Vanrolleghem mentioned NxtPort as example of how big data can work: a bottom-up approach, involving all relevant stakeholders, leaving them in control of their own data. A network of networks is the future for the logistics sector, and will allow companies to cope with growing volumes and a shortage of resources, and at the same time, reduce costs, increase efficiency and build stronger collaboration with third parties.
“A cluster is a critical asset”, concluded Desmaretz. In order to protect and grow the Antwerp chemical cluster and Belgium’s role as a global logistics gateway, it will be necessary to not only attract new but also maintain existing investments – this will only be achievable by continually investing in infrastructure, embracing new technologies and focusing on sustainable solutions.
Upcoming Events in our Year of Logistics
- Company visit to Johnson & Johnson
- September 18, 2018: Company visit to Nike
- Company visit to Skechers