Time to reposition the Mediterranean as the great logistics platform

We are facing a challenge that will change the world. As countries take essential measures to protect their populations, no sector remains immune to change. Closed borders, telework, travel bans and confinement. The coronavirus outbreak is redefining how we stay connected. And with a fifth of the planet already isolated, it is imperative to keep the flow of goods so that critical supplies can get where they are needed. The global logistics industry faces its biggest challenge.

The COVID-19 outbreak has increased the importance of supply chains in responding to needs in real time and in the transportation of goods, whether it’s managing the increase in online retail demand or maintaining the supply of medical supplies and fresh products. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that logistics needs to evolve to build stronger supply chains. We all depend on them to achieve food security, health and stability, as their mission is to keep people safe and businesses operational, while customers adapt to the new challenges.

Trade keeps the world connected. Maritime transport, where 80% of the goods and 50% of the oil consumed circulate, is of vital importance in global geopolitics. In addition, transport and logistics promote cooperation and development. They are blood for the economy by mobilizing $4.3 bln. In developing countries, competitive logistics would help solve migration, radicalization or job creation problems. Without a doubt, economy is an essential lever to fight poverty, inequality, and solve desperate socioeconomic conditions.

The pandemic has made the fourth industrial revolution a reality for millions of people. The contours of a new horizon are being configured. The digital future will create new opportunities for people, companies and governments. But if mismanaged, it will also bring new threats, polarizations between societies or divergent economies. The current economic models need to give new answers, since the existing measures are not enough. More economic integration, emergency plans and realistic solutions are needed to solve endemic problems.

The magnitude of the challenge makes the existing measures insufficient. Without an effective logistics sector, the economy cannot develop. An efficient logistics reduces costs in export, import and distribution in the domestic market. It is the lever for growth and competitiveness. Internationalization requires emphasizing the overall performance of distribution and supply networks, but also the regionalization of sectors that benefit from geographic proximity and economic complementarity.

Furthermore, the sector is committed and has reacted by prioritizing critical medical supplies, keeping the flow of fresh products and improving the use of technologies. The effort to maintain trade has been global. Governments and airport authorities across the world are implementing strict guidelines, such as increased disinfection, while protecting the safety and health of the workforce. We must thank workers and companies in the sector for their creativity, innovation and dedication to keep the supply chain operational, agile and robust in this time of crisis.

Beyond the immediate challenge, initiatives must be urgently promoted to make trade flows more robust. The construction of digital platforms will be crucial to adapt to this new type of crisis in the long term. The digitized supply chain, in addition to the global network of ports, terminals and economic zones, will guarantee the transportation of cargo from one place to another through just one click. New technologies are driving online logistics and enabling smarter commerce, with more efficiency throughout the supply chain and greater visibility and transparency; in turn allowing the movement of goods to be optimized and redirected to where they are most needed.

This pandemic comes at a key moment. The global logistics sector is booming, with a greater demand for service from customers, the emergence of new competitors, the review of logistics processes and their incorporation into the digital revolution. Great challenges await us, such as the use of big data to efficiently manage logistics flows or the implementation of online platforms that optimize the volumes of cargo transported.

The maritime power model that has been carrying cargoes across the high seas for centuries is giving way to a more multidirectional and multimodal future. The world shipping map will change. It is necessary and urgent to bet on the 2030 Agenda and on a sustainable model. 23% of CO2 emissions are attributed to transport, so the common priority is to move towards greater efficiency and eco-sustainability throughout the Mediterranean region.

The Mediterranean has more than 450 ports and terminals, represents 30% of world maritime trade by volume and is the leading tourist destination in the world. It is the point of confluence of three continents (Africa, Asia and Europe), where 500 mio people live. From this new situation, a large platform with unique characteristics may emerge to facilitate world trade.

However, greater integration of infrastructures is necessary, as well as more interconnection of the south through highways and the promotion of multimodal corridors, such as the Mediterranean Corridor. This would allow a change in trends and would benefit all actors in the region. It would also attract international companies, increase exports and boost the creation of jobs and companies. Closing the gaps between the two Mediterranean shores is not easy, but achieving it would mean obtaining a more effective transport network, more trade and further development. The region has the capacity and ambition to become a key player on the international logistics scene.

The future of the region depends on the ability to adapt to new realities, build bridges, create meeting spaces to transform this threat into an opportunity and turn weakness into strength. This would allow to properly face the challenges, create a common future by adding capabilities and apply this synergy to the search for new paths.

It is time to act to reposition the Mediterranean as the great logistics platform for east-west flows and as the best option to channel cargo between Asia, Africa and Europe. Logistics has never been as important as today.

By Anwar Zibaoui, General Coordinator at Association of the Mediterranean Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ASCAME)

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