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Hong Kong's hand in Barcelona's trade leap

Photo: Crane work at BEST.  
Crane work at BEST.  
The new, semi-automated, deep water container terminal known as Barcelona Europe South Terminal (or BEST), which opened last month, could be a crowning event in Hutchison Port Holdings' (HPHs) strategy to create a trade gateway for the Western Mediterranean.

Terminal Catalunya (TERCAT), the HPH subsidiary that runs the new facility - now the largest terminal in southern Europe - celebrated its opening with an event presided over by King Juan Carlos of Spain. Spanish officials were fulsome with their comments too.

The President of the Port of Barcelona, Sixte Cambra, referred to the terminal as: "the most important milestone of the year".

Cambra added the new terminal is "a qualitative and quantitative leap". He referred to the fact that the facility is the most advanced terminal in the Mediterranean, with a total capacity of 2.6 million TEUs per year.

Once finished in 2013, the terminal will have 1,500m of pier, with a draught of 16.5m and an esplanade of 100 hectares; it'll be able to accommodate several mega container vessels simultaneously.

Photo: Container operations.   Photo: Close maintenance.
Container operations.   Close maintenance.

Indeed, the new terminal will change the role of the Barcelona Port, said analysts, allowing TERCAT to extend its "hinterland" connections with the rest of Spain and southern Europe and increase transshipments through Barcelona itself.

As one company official at TERCAT said, the terminal combines state-of-the-art equipment, a Next Generation Terminal Management System (nGen) and a whole new management methodology.

Photo: Cambra: milestone of the year.  
Cambra: milestone of the year.  
nGen is described by HPH as a modular, scalable platform that controls the entire scope of port operations, including ship and yard planning, gate operations, as well as vessel and interaction operations, using powerful algorithms.

During pre-operation tests, BEST achieved an average productivity rate of 30 moves per crane per hour.

The Group Managing Director of Hong Kong-based HPH, John Meredith, was quoted as saying that the terminal will be a game changer for both Barcelona and Mediterranean trade.

Indeed, commentators have described BEST as a strategic gate connecting Europe with the Middle East, North Africa and Asia, especially China.

Opening gambits

The BEST project is connected by road and provisional rail that also connects with Central European lines.

Photo: Terminal in need of definitive rail links.   Photo: Aim to raise the profile of the Barcelona Port.
Terminal in need of definitive rail links.   Aim to raise the profile of the Barcelona Port.

But the Catalan government has recently questioned the central administration for slow delivery of financing for a definitive railway access to the terminal, which it says is holding back Barcelona's potential. The Madrid government, meanwhile, said its promise to build the definitive access would be met through an infrastructure budget next year.

At the opening ceremony observers said HPH intends to expand its presence in Catalonia. It has already invested Euros500 million in BEST.

Some analysts said HPH is also aiming at the telecom field, given Barcelona's position as a national hub for the mobile telecom sector.

However, one damper on the telecom arm, Hutchison Telecom, is the increasingly hard line taken by the EU Competition Commissioner, specifically on the concessions demanded in its takeover bid for France Telecom subsidiary, Orange Austria.

The deal, which Hutchison Telecom hopes would lead to improving profitability and market share through its 3 telecom brand, has been seen by the Commissioner as leading to higher consumer rates, as it would mean cutting Austrian operators from four to three.

  Photo: Attracting very large container vessels from China.
  Attracting very large container vessels from China.
Hutchison would have no such competitive problems given the 15 or more players in the Spanish mobile sector. But it would have to acquire a large participant and introduce aggressive price incentives to justify a market position, possibly bringing it back in front of the EU Commissioner.

Another area of business in which Hutchison could wish to be involved is real estate, given the distressed investments that are currently available in Spain for repackaging. Acquisitions could usefully sit alongside infrastructure holdings, said industry observers.

For now, HPH is fully involved in developing its logistics corridor with a rail network that runs parallel to the Mediterranean coast, aiming to connect the Spanish and French sides of the border.

New business

Photo: Overview: Barcelona's trade centre and port.  
Overview: Barcelona's trade centre and port.  
Jordi Cornet, Special State Delegate with a Barcelona consortium, believed the BEST terminal would help develop contacts between China and Spain that had so far been very limited.

"There has been hardly any contact with the real Chinese economy and until HPH's investment we didn't have a logistics platform," said Cornet.

"China is an emerging country with capacity to carry out major international investments. Spain and particularly Catalonia has become a very interesting market for investors and a very attractive destination for Chinese tourists," Cornet added.

"Barcelona is an enclave of great versatility and capacity. After the advances in  logistics, I think we will soon see corporate and commercial operations affecting the sectors related to new technologies, real estate and tourism," he predicted.

The Port of Barcelona is already moving ahead with another ambitious project, approving a public tender to build and operate the Bocana Nord Marina, occupying 2.5 hectares with a sheltered marine area and fairway. The initial investment is reputed to be Euros9 million.

from special correspondents Isabel Herrero and
José M Alarcón, Barcelona

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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