By Dr Moses Amweelo International trade has become a major vehicle for accelerating economic growth in developing countries. Trade has linked up all national economies into what is referred to as the global economic system. This vital link between nations is maintained through the world trade transportation system. However, great changes are happening to this system in terms of the volume and variety of trade and the speed at which traded goods are moved. Ports are at the forefront of all the changes taking place. The dredging and deepening of the port of Walvis Bay is a recognition of this situation and a deliberate attempt to establish all the conditions for competitiveness in the international economy. We cannot over-emphasize the growing importance of maritime transport and trade, and the new risks and opportunities with which they present ports today. Since more than 90% of all international trade is moved by sea transport, the role of ports today have become much more important, and innovative ideas have to be created to fulfil in the needs of importers and exporters. In conducting international trade, ports should be considered, first and foremost, as commercial undertakings like any other business aiming to satisfy the needs of foreign, national and regional trade. World trade and transport are part of a highly competitive market and through globalization it is absolutely vital that we recognize the importance of inter-port competition, especially in our case, competition between ports of Southern Africa. The growth in our port has laid a foundation for the positioning of the ports of Walvis Bay as the gateway for trade between SADC and the rest of the world. The Walvis Bay corridor is an integration of logistics systems and routes, which extend across the entire SADC free trade area from the east to the west. From Walvis Bay, on the shores of the Atlantic, northwards through Tsumeb to Angola: and through the Trans- Caprivi to Zambia, the DRC where it links up with the Nacala corridor in Malawi, and via the Trans-Kalahari highway through Botswana and the industrial heartland of South Africa (Gauteng), where it will link with the Maputo corridor on the Indian Ocean. When the entire east-west corridor system is in place cargo owners in our region will have the choice between the east coast or west coast gateway for their shipments. As Namibians, what all of us ultimately wish to see are tangible economic benefits for our peoples in the region, every man, woman and child. Namport has with its sister companies like TransNamib and the assistance of the Walvis Bay corridor group put structures in place to reduce transport time and cost savings. This is possible by offering the shortest possible regional destination route on the west coast, which will lead to more affordable imports, increased potential for export production, and increased global competitiveness for our region. It is important that Namport and other parastatals use their strengths to look for opportunities beyond the borders of Namibia and hereby inject positive contributions into the Namibian economy and hereby also strengthen the regional economies of SADC countries. There is absolutely no doubt about the influence of sea power, in almost every respect, on human history and the forces that destine some nations for prosperity and wealth and the benefits that the ports of Namibia have brought to the Namibian economy since the reintegration of Walvis Bay to its rightful owner, the Government of Namibia. With the present global economic realities, Namibia as a member of SADC has to ensure access to the sea for our landlocked neighbours to enable them to take advantage of international trading opportunities by increasing their potential for international trade with the rest of the world. With our shift towards export-oriented macro-economic policies to stimulate the regional economic activities, substantial increases in external trade volumes are inevitable, and this is where the strategic importance of our ports is apparent. Container handling is an important function of the port of Walvis Bay, and is now poised to become even more important with the ability to attract panamax-sized container vessels, and as new inland markets are opened by the Trans-Caprivi and Trans-Kalahari highways. In fact, most of the traffic growth predicted for Walvis Bay will be containerized cargo going to and from markets or destinations in the SADC free trade area. From now on Walvis Bay will be able to offer five to seven days’ gain in sea time for cargoes originating in Europe and the Americas and destined for Southern Africa; three days less sailing time to Europe compared to the port of Cape Town; fast turnaround times for ships, because of the absence of congestion; wet and dry transit port facilities; maximum security with minimal pilferage, as well as low insurance risks to mention but a few. A few years ago a conference on transport took place in Maputo, organized jointly by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the European Union (EU). The aim of the conference was to achieve a fully integrated and cost-effective transport system through the SADC protocol on transport communications and meteorology. The protocol took effect a few years ago when two thirds of SADC member states ratified it. If the commitment of the political leadership in our respective countries to integration is weak, progress will remain elusive and, to paraphrase the black American poet Imamu Airi Baraka, our dreams will be deferred, and ultimately wither and die. Now that we have achieved consensus on the nature of appropriate policies, getting things done on time with efficiency and in a sustainable manner is the greatest challenge facing policy-makers and donors in the region. We hope that the increased involvement of the private sector in providing transport services, the concessioning of port terminals to private sector operators, as well as public/private sector joint ventures, will improve port efficiency, expand capacity, reduce port dwell times, increase reliability and lower the unit costs of cargo shipping. The pace of port reform in our region must be increased to enable customers to benefit from faster clearance of goods and more competitive services. The move towards hub status for Walvis Bay is gathering momentum with the deepening of the port. As a young nation, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, our economic destiny heavily depends upon health maritime trade. Our two national ports, (port of LÃƒÆ’Ã†’Ãƒâ€ ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Â ‘ÃƒÆ’Ã†”Ã…Â¡ÃƒÆ’Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â¼deritz and port of Walvis Bay) serve as gateway s to the world. A modern and efficient port has always been and will always be the foundation that anchors our economic and national well-being.
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