Strategic geographic advantage, smart leadership, and enormous economic potential, all these factors opened the doors widely for the Arab Gulf countries, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, not only to become one of the most important countries in the world with regard to the port sector but also to completely dominate the market.
Written by: Fatima Omrani
Over recent years, Dubai and Riyadh have proven that they are witnessing continuous growth in the field of ports, as the infrastructure of these ports has been developed and their ability to receive and unload ships has increased, credit here goes to the commitment of local governments to developing this sector. Saudi Arabia and the UAE top the list of the largest ports in the world, as the ports of Jeddah and Dubai occupy advanced positions in this list.
Riyadh and Dubai continue to dominate the port sector globally, as these ports are characterized by modern technologies and advanced services that meet the needs of customers and make them centres of attraction for international shipping and trade companies.
The Asian continent occupies a leading position in maritime trade around the world at a time when Chinese influence is expanding to revive the Silk Road through a network of land and sea lines to connect the three continents. Asia, Africa and Europe. Countries around the world are now hastening to join international alliances, such as the Chinese-Pakistani-Qatari axis, and the Indian-Iranian-Emirati axis.
Approximately 43 ports, including commercial, industrial and secondary ports, in 9 countries (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, UAE, Iran, India, and Pakistan) compete for navigation in the Arabian Gulf. The volume of investments in these ports is estimated between 100 billion and 150 billion dollars, until 2029.
This huge amount and the large number of ports are enough to draw the shape and size of future competition for maritime navigation in the Gulf area, in addition to the fact that all ports are close to each other, which makes the competition between them fiercer.
Several countries are racing to control strategic ports in the Gulf region, especially to avoid sending ships through the Strait of Hormuz, as all Gulf countries play a role in the balance of power in the region and perpetuate their position as mediators in regional and international disputes.
This competition highlights the importance of developing ports to improve their competitiveness and their ability to keep pace with global developments, hence the crucial importance of training and qualifying workers in the maritime field.
For example, the London Maritime Institute, based in London, offers training programs in several major cities worldwide. The institute plays an important role in developing the capabilities of specialized human resources in the port sector, improving logistics management, and providing innovative technological solutions. These specialized training centres can enhance the skills of port workers in general and increase their attractiveness to international shipping and trade.
The development of the shipping and logistics sector is a fundamental pillar of the transport strategy, especially the maritime one, in Saudi Arabia, within the development plan of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 led by Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which is to become a regional logistics centre for the countries of the Middle East, Africa and Southeast Asia.
Saudi ports are witnessing an increase in maritime traffic due to the recent opening of the region to new foreign investments. This has allowed Saudi Arabia to develop a modern infrastructure to attract more commercial traffic to its ports.
These ports were developed to meet the needs of modern shipping operators, and now serve many industrial and commercial companies from all around the world. This has enabled Saudi Arabia to become a major trading centre for regional and international trade.
The investments aim to improve port infrastructure, including building new ports, modernizing existing ports, and upgrading security technology. In addition, huge investments are being made in the logistics sector, including building new warehouses and developing new technologies to improve supply chain management.
United Arab Emirates
The UAE ranked first in the Arab world and fourth in worldwide in the quality of port infrastructure, according to a report on the logistics industry issued by Mordor Intelligence. Also, the UAE has the strongest network of connections with sea ports with the rest of the world, starting from the country’s ports of (Abu Dhabi Ports) and (DP World).
The UAE has maintained its first position in the Arab world in maritime connectivity with international ports from 2018 until year 2022. Meanwhile, the UAE’s ports have become a regional hub for attracting international investment and promoting sustainable growth in the logistics sector using technology and innovation.
Sultanate of Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar
The Sultanate of Oman is distinguished by the presence of an integrated network of ports spread along the Omani coast. The network of main commercial ports includes the Port of Sohar, the Port of Salalah, which ranked second among the most efficient container ports in the world, and the Port of Duqm. There are also smaller ports in the states of Suwaiq, Shinas, and Khasab. Sultan Qaboos Port in Muscat city has been allocated to serve the tourism sector.
In addition to its important economic role, The Sultanate of Oman plays a crucial political role, especially after Muscat granted the US military greater facilities to benefit from the ports of Duqm and Salalah, and contributed to adjusting the balance of power in the region.
As for Kuwait, it imports more than 80% of its needs through its ports, while it imports about 20% from its land and airports. Therefore, since the beginning of the state, Kuwait has been linked to its vital ports, and for many years it has remained an important commercial location among the countries of the region.
In Qatar and Bahrain, there are many ports that are considered the backbone of the trade system. These ports provide maritime transport, navigational and logistical services at a high level and in accordance with the highest specifications, standards and international standards in force in this regard.
Does the Gulf Dominate the Ports Sector Globally?
Ports in the Middle East occupied four of the top five positions in the second edition of the Global Container Port Performance Index (CPPI) developed by the World Bank.
The World Bank index and market information issued by Standard & Poor’s International Agency on the performance of container ports also showed that the ports of the Middle East and East Asia were the best in terms of responding to the significant growth in the volume of activities, and in particular, the Gulf ports were far superior to British ports.
Britain’s Heavy Losses After Brexit
Freight statistics from the UK Department for Transport highlighted the impact of Brexit and the pandemic on British ports, with total freight tonnage down by 9%, while traffic fell by 13% – while inland units were massively damaged with a 17% drop between 2020 and 2021.
Economic analyst Phoebe Thompson said, “This is the first time that the industry as a whole has been able to see the overall impact of Britain’s exit from the European Union on port volumes.”
However, the British government did not allow the impact of Brexit to extend further, as the CEO of the Great British Ports Group, Tim Morris, said, “Things have changed for ports, but not in the dramatic way that was expected. Our ports were already dealing with large quantities of commercial materials with the rest of the world, so the idea of being able to move goods across borders wasn’t anything new, it’s not universal, as some ports only trade with the EU, it’s a more fundamental change.”
At a time when the UK’s ports are facing a financial cost due to the confusion related to border control after Britain’s exit from the European Union, it is crucial that London’s orientation shifts to the Arab Gulf countries and increase the dedication and networking of relations and agreements in the port sector.
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates seem to be ideal destinations for Britain to benefit from their superiority in the field of ports with their occupying the first positions in the world, especially in light of the Saudi-British rapprochement and the upcoming visit of Prince Mohammed bin Salman to London soon.