(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) Multi-billion dollar investments in port operations across the Middle East continue to highlight role as the most important transport sector for regional trade.
There are currently around 35 ports within the Gulf region, many of which are currently undergoing expansion to meet increasing trade demand, especially with unrest spreading across North Africa.
According to Seatrade Chairman Chris Hayman, the steady post-recession revival of regional and international trade between the East and West is resulting in increasing volumes of cargo routed in and out of the region.
"Having remained strong throughout the global economic downturn, countries across the Gulf have continued to expand their port operations over the last two years, with growth continuing into 2011 and beyond," said Hayman.
The World Ports and Trade Summit is split into six different sessions covering topics including the world economy, trade and ports, future challenges and opportunities for the Middle East and leading drivers of freight markets.
"Recognising both the global nature of the cargo industry and its various areas of specialisation, the summit has been created to address a number of the leading challenges and opportunities presented in the current market," added Hayman
Some 38.2 billion was invested in the region's ports up to 2008, with a further 38.5 billion having been allocated during 2009, according to a report produced by the Kuwait Financial Centre (Markaz). Though falling oil revenues and a near-universal decline in trade led to a significant readjustment in this figure during the economic downturn of recent years, positive growth has returned across the region.
In the UAE alone, which accounts for a 61 per cent majority of trade volume among the GCC countries, its ports witnessed a compound annual growth rate of 13 per cent in volume between 2004 and 2008.
Although this fell away slightly between 2008 and 2009, it rebounded significantly throughout 2010.
Phase one of Abu Dhabi's Khalifa Port and Khalifa Industrial Zone Abu Dhabi (Kizad) is well underway, with completion due in the fourth quarter of 2012. The Abu Dhabi Ports Company (ADPC) has committed Dh26.5 billion to the first phase of both projects. The first phase of the port will have capacity for two million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) and 12 million tonnes of general cargo.
"Kizad is expected to contribute up to 15 per cent of Abu Dhabi's GDP by 2030 and as such is set to become a major business hub for the Middle East. We look forward to sharing our plans and development strategies with industry peers at the World Ports and Trade Summit," said Tony Douglas, CEO of ADPC.
According to figures from DP World, the UAE handled 11.6 million twenty-foot equivalent container units (TEU) in 2010, an increase of 4 per cent from 2009, with the fourth quarter delivering growth of seven per cent over the same period in 2009. When the volume increases across its portfolio of 50 international terminals in 28 countries are also taken into account, this figure climbs to more than 14 per cent in year-on-year growth.
In Saudi Arabia, total port throughput increased by almost 10 per cent between 2009 and 2010, with total cargo handled increasing to just under 155 million tonnes, up from more than 142 million tonnes a year earlier.
Similarly, Kuwait's growing regional presence as a port city has continued, with its plans for up to three new ports progressing, including the 1.1 billion Boubyan Island development.
Port expansion activities are also proceeding in other parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Jordan's primary shipping gateway to the Red Sea, Aqaba Container Terminal, is undergoing a 235 million upgrade, set to boost its annual capacity to 1.6 million TEU.
In Iraq, though further changes and setbacks are likely, given the continuing political instability, 10 billion has been set aside for port development, including upgrades to its Umm Qasr and Grand Faw ports.