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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Hambourg, porte européenne du dragon rouge

by Jérôme Skalski

Hamburg: Red Dragon’s European Port

Translated Friday 24 October 2014, by Gene Zbikowski

Located at the eastern edge of continental Europe’s northwestern seacoast (North European Range), the port of Hamburg has recently become the second-biggest commercial point of entry for containerized products from China. The German and Hamburg authorities hail this record.

A junk sailing up the mouth of the Elbe. It was in 1731 that a ship from the Middle Kingdom first tied up at the quays of Hamburg. Since then, the river has flowed, the internal combustion engine has replace sails, and containerized traffic with China represents over 1.4 million TEU (1) out of a total of 4.8 million TEU in the first quarter of 2014.

This is a record that contrasts with the performance of the ports of Le Havre and of Marseilles, trailing in the sector far behind Rotterdam, the biggest port in the North European Range, and Antwerp, which recently fell to third place in the China trade.

But it’s true that, with the recent start of work on the giant lock of the Deurgancksdok, a 340-million-euro investment financed by the European Investment Bank (160.5 million euros), the Belgian KBC bank (81 million euros) and by the Belgian ports (98 million euros), the Flemish metropolis is preparing its comeback.

While Hamburg throws a four-day birthday celebration every May, the 825-year-old lady with rosy cheeks, that today are studded with stars, is in smashing shape. Twinned with Shanghai and linked to the main Chinese ports, nearly 400 companies from the Red Dragon have branches in Hamburg, as do 900 European companies that trade with China.

Two events – the German chancellor’s seventh visit to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) a few months ago, and the summit in Hamburg a few days ago, which since 2004 has brought together hundreds of representatives of the scientific, academic, economic and political world to keep up relations between China and Europe – provide a context for the following figures:

With nearly 150,000 direct workers, the port of Hamburg has overcome the difficulties linked to the consequences of the 2008 financial crisis owing to an investment policy that has been broadly backed by the government authorities. The latest example is the recently-begun dragging of the Elbe river.

Some 140 million tons of merchandise, both in bulk and in containers, transited the quays in 2013. This equals the pre-crisis level of port traffic and represents a return to 5% average annual growth, which has been the rule since the early 1980s.

Container traffic rose from 7 million TEU to 9 million TEU between 2011 and 2013, including nearly 4 million TEU bound for or coming from China in 2013.

These figures are to be compared with those for le Havre, the second-biggest French port: total traffic of 63.5 million tons and 2.3 million TEU in 2012.

In the run-up to 2020, the port of Hamburg’s goal is to manage 25 million containers. According to La Tribune, the added value generated by all port activities will rise to over 20 billion euros, with China accounting for the lion’s share.

A big French daily evening paper (2) recently announced the “end” of China. With a population of 1.3 billion and cities that will grow by over 300 million people, that is to say the equivalent of the U.S. population, by 2040, China’s end seems to be a risky prediction.

Apparently, this is the view neither of Germany nor of the PRC, which this year sent its biggest delegation to the Hamburg summit on Oct. 10-11. Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang accompanied the delegation. Steel-maker Ansteel Group and automaker Beijing Automobile Group were among the big Chinese corporations that were represented.

However, the sleeping beauty can dream that it is in the happy hinterland of the Hanseatic and Rhineland capital, according to the French newspaper of reference (2). Isn’t humming songs a deeply-rooted habit in the “country of the method”(3)? Uptown, a share in the Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG, the main Hamburg logistics company, may be a substitute for a page-marker for the Ouistreham Quays. Certainly with less delectation from the docks of le Havre or Dunkirk while watching the ships sailing past on the English Channel or the North Sea

(1) Twenty foot equivalent unit
(2) Le Monde
(3) the Chinese nickname for France is Fa Guo, “the country of the method.”

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