Piraeus, Greece (PortSEurope) January 24, 2019 – Since the start of the 21st century, Chinese companies have acquired stakes in some 15 ports in Europe, that handle more than 10% of shipping containers traffic to and from the Old Continent, according to the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
The state owned COSCO Shipping Ports and China Merchants Port Holdings have acquired stakes in: Port Said, Egypt; Casablanca and Tangier, Morocco; Marsaxlokk, Malta; Istanbul, Turkey; Piraeus, Greece; Bilbao and Valencia, Spain; Marseille, Nantes, Le Havre and Dunkirk, France; Antwerp and Bruges, Belgium, Rotterdam and the Netherlands.
This shopping spree is part of China’s maritime Silk Road project (part of the Belt and Road initiative also known as One Belt, One Road, or OBOR), which seeks to connect the country to commercial centres in Africa, Asia and Europe.
COSCO and other Chinese companies invest in smaller European seaports and then try to develop them.
The port investment spree worries EU leadership and in 2017 European Commission (EC) President Jean-Claude Juncker proposed new investment screening measures for foreign state-owned companies that want to purchase a European harbours
In Q4, 2017 were completed the latest Chinese acquisitions of the Noatum Ports Holdings (NPH) in Spain and CSP Zeebrugge Terminal in Belgium. China is the EU (European Union)’s biggest importer and EU’s second-largest export market for China. China owns 35% of Euromax which runs Rotterdam, Europe’s largest port, 20% of Antwerp’s, the next busiest; and 100% of Zeebrugge, the world’s largest roll-on/roll-off vehicle facility.
In 2010, the China Ocean Shipping Co. (COSCO) started buying stakes in the Greek port of Piraeus and began its transformation into China’s main gateway to Europe. In 2016 COSCO already had control over the port. COSCO, with the world’s fourth-largest container shipping fleet, is leading the charge in Europe. China’s COSCO Shipping Ports Limited operates Piraeus Port Authority SA (PPA) and Piraeus Container Terminal SA (PCT).
Its concession agreement for Piraeus port runs until at least 2052. It is now in charge of container terminals, cruise ship piers and ferry quays.
Some 20 million passengers go through Piraeus port each year. Since COSCO’s takeover, it has become the fastest-growing port in the world and the ambition of COSCO is to make it the largest in the Mediterranean.
In the first nine months of 2018, container throughput in Piraeus port grew by 20%. In September, the increase compared to the previous year was even 27%. If this pace continues, Piraeus will become the largest container port in the Mediterranean in 2019 – and the most important hub for Chinese imports into Europe.
COSCO has already invested $700 million ($796.91 million) at Piraeus and has committed to invest an additional $350 million ($398.46 million) in the next five years. Immediate plans include enlargement of the passenger and car terminals and constructing a new oil pier, as well as building hotels and a cruise ship terminal and developing a logistics center.
China’s state owned companies are building Israel’s two newest ports, Haifa, and Ashdod, and are the largest investors in Egypt’s Suez Canal Economic Zone, operating at both ends of this most vital link in the Belt and Road initiative.
Chinese companies have participated in the construction and operation of 42 ports in 34 countries under its Belt and Road initiative launched in 2013. China has also signed 38 bilateral and regional maritime agreements covering 47 countries along the Belt and Road trade routes.
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