Partnership between the public and private sectors in port development is growing and is to be encouraged to make ports more responsive to the market, notably when export-led development strategies are pursued. This is the shared perception of the Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Ports which met in UNCTAD last week (18-22 March). More than 140 representatives from both the public and private sector from the port industry coming from 58 countries, international organizations and non-governmental bodies attended the meeting. The meeting was chaired by John Hayes, Chief Executive Officer of Sydney Ports Corporation (Australia).
"The take-out message from this meeting is simple", Mr. Hayes said in closing, "ports and logistics chains of which they are arguably the most vital part, must be accorded prominence in the policy initiatives of our governments. Investments in infrastructure and equipment, in skilled labour forces and continuing training, in managerial capability of the highest order, need to be present - each to some degree - if the nations served by ports are to grow and prosper. If financial means are limited then that is the situation in which it is most critical to have talented port management and a thoroughly committed, well skilled port labour force."
Noting that there are ports at all stages of development and that all systems and styles of port management have their place, he stressed that they all have one thing in common: "traffic has to be facilitated, not hindered".
The Group adopted recommendations for institutional reforms including the contribution of the private sector, on the crucial role of ports in trade promotion, the use of strategic pricing for sustainable development of ports and the benefits to be drawn from the various types of cooperation in the port field. The experts also underlined that an efficient port requires not only adequate infrastructure, superstructure and equipment but also good communications using the latest information technologies.
A valuable forum
Much emphasis was placed on the need for ports to have dedicated and skilled management teams with a motivated and trained work force. Acknowledging UNCTAD´s contribution in training and technical assistance, the experts made recommendations for further activities in these fields and for further research. In the light of the successful management by UNCTAD of ports in Somalia since June 1993, the Group recommended that special attention should be given to ports in war-torn countries and those affected by natural disasters.
The Group, which held a first session in 1993, expressed their desire to continue to meet in UNCTAD, considering it as valuable forum for the international community to discuss port development. In view of the rapid changes taking place in the ports industry, it recommended that a meeting be convened every two years.
The ultimate goal of the recommendations made by the Group is to assist developing countries and countries in transition to facilitate trade and promote their economic development.