STA, 22 March 2019 - Slovenia's sole seaport in Koper is not concerned about the prospect of Chinese investments in the port of Trieste, its biggest rival among north Adriatic ports. It says there is plenty of scope for growth of all ports in the region.
"We've always emphasised our support for development projects of all ports in the region," port operator Luka Koper told the STA, noting that investments were the only way north Adriatic ports can compete with ports in North Europe.
The company quoted a study commissioned by the North Adriatic Port Association showing that ports from Ravenna to Rijeka have a combined potential to transship six million container units per year; in 2018 they handled 2.8 million units.
It is precisely in container transshipments that Trieste poses the biggest threat to Koper with the help of state-sponsored Chinese investors.
Koper handled 988,000 container units last year to Trieste's 725,000, but Trieste's volume was up almost a fifth over the year before while Koper registered only 8% growth in container shipments.
Overall, Trieste and the adjacent Monfalcone handled 67 million tonnes of cargo while Koper handled 24 million tonnes, both figures records for the respective ports.
Not only is it unfazed by the prospect of even stronger competition from Trieste, Luka Koper notes that all ports in the region have the same problem: poor rail connections inland.
Koper has a single track connecting it to the national rail network, Trieste faces bottlenecks within the port itself, and in Croatia's Rijeka the tracks still cut through the city.
"Rather than being concerned about what neighbouring ports are doing, it is important that Koper and Slovenia realize plans that we have adopted," the company said about the coming construction of a new track connecting the port with the inland hub Divača.
Construction of the EUR 1bn-plus track covering a distance of 27 kilometres has already started - contractors are currently building 20 kilometres of access roads - but the project is expected to take many years due to the difficult karst terrain.
Concern about Chinese plans have been raised in Slovenian media after it was announced that during Chinese President Xi Jinping's ongoing visit to Italy a memorandum of understanding on Chinese infrastructure investments would be signed.
According to plans, one of the pillar of the investment plan would be to strengthen Trieste's rail connections inland, which some see as a serious threat to Koper's competitive position.
Elen Tvrdy, the dean of the Koper Faculty of Maritime Studies and Transport, told the STA Trieste's plans required not only that the new Koper-Divača was built, but also that the port itself Koper continued investing.
"We must always be concerned about loss of market or partners. Koper must continue with investments, this is the only way it will remain competitive, regardless of whether or not the Chinese come to Trieste.
She noted that the Chinese were looking for a foothold in north Adriatic because of short transport routes to Central Europe. North Adriatic has geographic advantages, but good rail connections are critical, she said.
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