Airport Cities – a view to a different trading environment for South Africa?

April 28, 2013 — Leave a comment

ace_skyscraper_237x352aerotropolisThis past week witnessed the first Airport Cities Convention in South Africa. It came at the timely announcement of the country’s first aerotropolis earmarked for development around Oliver Tambo International airport (ORTIA) and the surrounding industrial complex. While the City of Ekurhuleni gets prized possession of the ‘aerotropolis’ (in title) by virtue of the location of ORTIA, Johannesburg is set to benefit perhaps more greatly due to it being the epi-centre of South African commerce and trade. This represents significant ‘hinterland’ development which bodes well for future multi-modal transport and shipping activity for the Gauteng region and the country as a whole.

In support of government’s National Infrastructure Plan, is Strategic Integrated Project (SIPs) 2, otherwise known as the Durban-Free State-Gauteng logistics and industrial corridor. Infrastructure upgrades are already occurring to road and rail networks linking to the key cargo and distribution hub, City Deep. While the express purpose of an inland port, terminal or logistics hub is to provide relief for congested seaports, it likewise creates possibilities and opportunities to synergise with other transport forms. This serves to maximise capacity through integration offering local suppliers and foreign customers a host of trade, shipment and logistics options.

Foremost, an inland port is a hub designed to move international shipments more efficiently and effectively from maritime ports inland for distribution throughout the heartland. Think of the logistics of inbound freight as a barbell. At one end, inbound containers flood into a seaport, spreading across local storage facilities as they are unloaded. If they aren’t moved quickly enough from the port, they create a bottleneck that bogs down the entire distribution cycle as containers wait longer to get off ships, to get into warehouses, and to get back out and onto trucks and trains for final shipment. The Emergence of the Inland Port (credit: Jones, Lang, LaSalle)

In a world of increasing global integration, focussing more on global distribution of goods and services, it behoves our country to understand the dynamics of global trade and what in fact makes commerce tick. Today’s number 1 spot is not going to remain intact without continuous re-evaluation and innovation. It would indeed be arrogant (if not suicidal) of us to think that our current prominence and strength in the sub-saharan region will remain without innovation for the future. At the same time South Africa should welcome increased competition from its neighbours, both immediate as well as further north in Africa. The latest fDI 2013 Report indicates a decrease in foreign direct investment in South Africa (-5%) and Kenya (-9%), while at the same time a significant increase in foreign investment in Nigeria (+20%) and Egypt (+20%), respectively. True, the latter countries are far removed from South Africa’s immediate ‘playing field’, however do we fully understand the drivers which cause the named countries to attract FDI at such an increasing rate – are they capitalising somehow on our deficiencies, shortcomings, or lack of opportunism?

The National Infrastructure Plan can only be seen as a single cog in the machinery to keep South Africa competitive. And, while it is encouraging to witness these developments, a corresponding economic and commercial enterprise on both government and private sector is required to maximise these developments. Some smidgen of hope could lie in the Department of Trade and Industry’s economic principles which support Industrial Policy Action Plan (IPAP) and Special Economic Zones (SEZs), for example, however, several business commentators have already voiced concerns on exactly how these support the Infrastructure Plan. A further question lies in our country’s ability to facilitate trade, not only at our ports, but more importantly the ‘hinterland’ of our country and the neighbouring regions. Do our existing and future laws adequately provide for expeditious and facilitative procedures in the treatment of import and export goods? Are we sure that we are addressing all real and potential trade barriers?

Anyone desiring more information on the ‘aerotropolis’ concept should find some interest at the following websites – Aerotropolis.com, and the City of Ekurhuleni

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