Transportation congestion is more than an irritant to shippers and carriers. It threatens to have a serious impact on worldwide economic growth. That's the view of Ron Widdows, chief executive officer of container shipping line APL. "If our transport infrastructure can't keep pace with the rate of growth, then big question marks hang over the continuation of the kind of economic prosperity that's been delivered this decade," Widdows said at a recent meeting of the European Conference of Ministers of Transport (ECMT) in Sofia, Bulgaria. He said the problem should be addressed on a global scale, not with regard to particular locations. Global container volumes are on track to double between the years 2000 and 2010, Widdows said, but the supporting infrastructure in many key markets isn't designed to accommodate that surge. Already the impact is being felt; in the first quarter of this year, only 46 percent of container vessels arrived on time at ports around the world. That is the lowest level on record, he pointed out. At the Port of Rotterdam, the figure was a dismal 35 percent. Widdows said emerging economies in India and Vietnam are especially vulnerable to congestion if they fail to expand port, road and rail capacity in line with projected growth. As for Europe, it must find a way to boost the role that railroads play in the movement of freight, to relieve pressure on the continent's roads. "Congestion in any major part of the world's supply chain has global reverberations," Widdows said. One positive step, he added, is ECMT's creation of an International Transport Forum, which invited ministers from North America, Japan and other countries to join with their European counterparts in a discussion of the problem.
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