Jens B. Knudsen: The future of the export nation Germany lies in the strengthening of infrastructures in northern Germany

The federal government has recognised the problem of infrastructural decay and seeks more investments into transport routes. For Germany as a business location, this is admittedly a true challenge, as true as the necessity to invest heavily in transport routes.

German economy started optimistically into the year 2015. A continuing growth of the Ifo Business Climate Index, full order books and confident consumers give reason for optimism even with regard to Germany’s medium-term perspectives economic perspectives. This development is also supported by a stable domestic economy, but the most important driver remains the export economy. And this driver can only function smoothly when it is support­­ed by an efficient logistical connection in Germany. To put it another way: we need reliably working transport chains to transport our premium products cost-effectively, sustainably and most of all reliably to wherever they are in de­­mand. German seaports play a key role in this and this role at the interface between the export nation Germany and its global sales markets will be even more important in the future. The “Seeverkehrsprog­­nose 2030” (maritime traffic forecast 2030), which was presented in 2013 on behalf of the Federal Min­ister of Transport, Building and Urban Development, documents this im­pressively: the handling of all German seaports will increase by 74 per cent from 2010 to 2030, or on average 2.8 per cent per year. The handling volume will increase from 269 to 468 million tonnes in the same pe­­riod. For comparison: in the period from 2001 to 2010, the handling of sea cargo only increased by 1.4 per cent annually. According to the forecast, particularly strong growth can be seen in the container handling in German ports, with an average increase of 4.3 per cent annually.

The massive, quantitative increase of sea cargo hand­ling is just one aspect of those logistic challenges that the ex­­port nation Germany is faced with. The two other as­­pects are quality, including punctuality and reliability, and sus­­tainability. A successful “energy transition”, after all, requires that transports are also organised as efficiently and resource saving as possible. The joint solution for all three challenges, capacity requirements, quality and sus­­tainability, lies in the creation of intelligent supply chains, with an optimised interval of different traffic carriers and demand-orientated strengthening of traffic infrastructure, particularly in northern Germany. Because here, in the far north, is the “logistical heart” of the export nation Germany. If it is healthy, it strengthens the entire Ger­­man national economy. A looming “calcification of the heart”, on the other hand, would be felt nationwide too and would act as a brake block for exports, growth and lastly the social prosperity. Investments in northern Ger­­man transport routes and sea ports are therefore in the general interest of the entire federal republic.

Along with the demand-oriented expansion of the ports, the strengthening of both their seaward access and con­­­nection of ports to the hinterland play a central role. Par­­ticularly necessary seawards is a speedy fairway adjust­­ment of the Lower Elbe river to enable ships with a draught of up to 13.5 metres (independent of the tide) and up to 14.5 metres (dependent on the tide) to access the Port of Hamburg. Another point at the top of the agenda is the fairway adjustment of Outer and Lower Weser river to increase the accessibility of the ports in Bremerhaven and Bremen. Just as important is the consistent ex­­pan­­sion of connec­tions of ports to the hinterland to enable a quick and efficient supply and removal of goods in our German ports. This would also make German ports more at­­­tractive to exporters in neighbouring countries. In its mobility agenda presented in 2013, the BDI rightly de­­manded to give priority in the Federal Transport Infra­­structure Plan to the expansion of connections of ports to the hinterland over other economically less profitable projects. A need exists in different sectors and traffic carriers. An important key project in the rail transport is the realisation of the so called “Y line”, which is the new and extended routes for freight traffic in the triangle be­­tween Hamburg, Bremen and Hannover. The extension of the A20 motor­way in Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Sax­­ony, including the building of a permanent crossing of the Lower Elbe river, are also of utmost importance. The urgently re­­­quired expansion of the A7 motorway at the northern ac­­cess to Hamburg is already in progress. Here a capacity increase from four to six and six to eight lanes respectively will take place in the next years. The expansion of inland and sea waterways is of particular importance, especially in relation to the energy efficiency of cargo trans­­portation. When it comes to strengthening of the Ger­­man inland waterway network, the demand for action goes far beyond northern Germany.

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The biggest and most pressing demand for action in marine waterways is without a doubt the Kiel Canal. Almost 100 million tonnes cargo are being transported annually on the world’s busiest canal, including many German export goods on the way to the Baltic states. Today’s sig­­nificance of the Port of Hamburg as “hub” for global con­­tainer shipping is not the least based on the quick acces­­sibility to the Baltic Sea region through the Kiel Canal. The same applies to the ports of Bremen, whereby here the function as a logistics centre for the export-oriented automobile industry is also established due to the close­­ness to the Kiel Canal. Therefore an extensive modernisation of this waterway is of overall economic and pan-Ger­­man interest. Besides the building of a fifth lock chamber in Brunsbüttel – which is underway since 2014 – important fields of action are the adaptation of the 15­­-kilometre-long so called “eastern route” ahead of Kiel to the rest of the cross-section of the canal, the redevel­opment of the big and small locks in Kiel and the deepening of the canal by one metre to increase the maximum draught to 10.50 metres. The unbureaucratic provision of the re­quired engineers and technicians in the responsible waterways and shipping administration is of utmost im­­portance even during the run-up to the actual construction work. As a matter of fact, the speedy strengthening of the canal is considerably impeded by staff shortages just as it is by the yet to be secured financing.

There is no doubt: expanding the northern German traffic infrastructure costs money. We need long-term, spirited approaches on how this funding can be raised. The “Sus­­tainable traffic infrastructure financing” commission head­­ed by the former Federal Minister of Trans­­port Kurt Bodewig, proposes a stronger user-financing. This may be a suit­­able approach. Another promising approach is the financ­­ing and realisation through infrastructure funds and Pub­­lic-Private-Partnerships. An added benefit of such schemes is often the more efficient planning which, in turn, leads to reduced planning periods and a quicker realisation.

The author is a qualified shipping agent. He studied Business Administration and, after various positions in the USA and Hamburg, has worked for Sartori & Berger since 2002. Since 2008, he has been a managing partner there. Knudsen is vice chairman of the Zentral­­­verband Deutscher Schiffsmakler (German Shipbrokers’ Association) and has been a member of the federal executive board of the German Economic Council since 2013.