Ports & Logistics | CDP

Ports & Logistics

The Italian ports and logistics system in the Euro-Mediterranean competitive environment: potential and conditions for renewal

The Italian port system, characterised by a favourable geographical location and a large number of commercial ports, not only struggles to intercept traffic flows not heading to or starting from Italy, but Italian companies also tend to use foreign ports for shipping their products or supplies of raw materials and semi-finished products.

Compared to a potential market that could, theoretically, extend as far as Bavaria and reach the emerging economies of the East – with a catalysing effect on the ability of the Italian port system to become a key player in the European market – currently the Italian port system’s market is stuck south of the Alps.

All this contributes to a high cost to the Italian economy which, particularly in a complex period like the present, significantly reduces the competitiveness of the country by requiring Italian companies to pay on average about 11% higher logistics costs than the European average. This asymmetry results in a competitiveness deficit on estimated industry turnover of around €12bn.

However, this gap can largely be closed by resolving operational issues and system inefficiencies.

The challenge that the Italian port system faces is: to become stronger, in order to compete in a scenario that is becoming more and more complex and articulated. In recent years, in fact, the scenario has changed profoundly and international competition has intensified:

  • the effects of the crisis on businesses and internal demand among EU countries was significant, making it necessary to keep close control of the logistics costs related to procurement and distribution. Consequently, this increased the degree of competition between ports, benefiting those that can meet the logistics needs of enterprises at lower costs and with higher levels of efficiency
  • the countries of the southern Mediterranean have made significant investments in their port systems, gaining significant market share at the expense of Italian ports, which between 2007 and 2010 – in particular with reference to “transhipment” – lost about 8% of market share
  • some Eastern European countries are also pursuing significant port investments, such as Slovenia, which is strengthening its Adriatic ports, and Romania, which has invested in the development of the port of Constanta
  • the shipping market is facing a deep crisis, as shown by the trend in freight rates, which are at historic lows, making all strategic decisions crucial for operators, especially those relating to which ports to use.

The combination of these factors results in a system that requires decisive action to improve competitiveness. In particular, what currently seems to be holding back Italy’s ports and logistics system is a widespread perception among international operators that Italy’s system is not very reliable.

This perception in many cases results in large shipping companies preferring to use the ports of Northern Europe for the handling of shipments between Europe and the Far East, instead of the ports of the North Tyrrhenian, for example, despite the significant savings on sailing times that these ports would offer. This apparently illogical decision is rooted in the time and cost of ground services and connections with production/consumption centres.

Given these circumstances, operators tend to favour greater predictability, allowing for better and more efficient logistics planning. It is an interesting example of how, in many cases, the reliability of the service is more important than other factors such as any potential advantage in terms of reducing the number of transport days required.

As it stands, the main problems of the Italian port and logistical system relate to the following aspects:

  • interconnections – Italian ports are characterised, in general, by a fairly low intermodal transport capacity, both in port areas and in freight villages and, in many cases, are served by inadequate road and rail networks
  • management and systemic aspects – mainly due to the time required for docking, loading/unloading and goods handling
  • structural aspects – relating to the morphology of the land (Italian ports are often located in urban areas, limiting their expansion), and physical characteristics such as water depth, dock length and the lack of operating space for cargo handling.

Given this, it is clearly necessary to design logistical infrastructure as an integrated set of hubs and networks, which must be suitably interconnected and of adequate size, enabling the most fluid possible movement of shipments without any bottlenecks.

In addition, based on a classification of ports that takes account of their size, specialisation and location, it would also be a good idea to focus interventions on the ports that act (or could act) as gateways to the core European network for cargo on the Europe-Far East route.

We need to identify the priority criteria for the selection of interventions that go beyond the traditional approach of basing decisions on demand and instead to prioritise, at least in a first phase, targeted interventions that are not necessarily major but whose ability to add value to the system is assured in advance.

Related documents