(Xinhua) — The Mediterranean port city of Vado Ligure, with a population of some 8,500, might be small in size, but it has an ongoing big construction project on its shore.
The Vado Gateway terminal, scheduled to open in December, will be able to service the world’s largest container ships which are so huge that they can only dock at select ports across the globe.
Making that possible was the Netherlands-based APM Terminals, part of the Danish conglomerate Maersk, together with two Chinese companies including COSCO SHIPPING Ports.
Ports are among the most traditional and strategic infrastructures in the world, and Chinese investment here — thousands of miles from homeland — are not feared but welcomed, local officials and industry insiders say.
FUSING WITH CHINA
“Our local community is well aware that a foreign investor is not in Vado to conquer but to collaborate, this is the message that I gave to my citizens,” Monica Giuliano, mayor of Vado Ligure, told Xinhua.
In the view of Gian Enzo Duci, a professor at the University of Genoa and president of Federagenti (Italian National Federation of Ship Brokers & Agents), Chinese companies that are involved with ports are doing just what their international counterparts do year after year.
“What COSCO is doing in Italy is not different from what MSC — that is a Swiss company — is doing; or Maersk, that is a Danish company; or that in the past was done by American or Japanese companies. So in this respect, I don’t see why we should have such a scare of (Chinese) presence here,” Duci told Xinhua.
The city of Genoa is known for its central role in maritime trade over many centuries and is currently Italy’s busiest sea port. The city’s deputy mayor, Giancarlo Vinacci, said he believes “in this case there is a need in the western world to fuse ‘old’ Europe together with ‘young’ China.”
Chinese investments are welcomed as they bring exactly what Italy need the most — infrastructure.
Italy hasn’t developed infrastructures in its ports or inland areas in the past few years, Paolo Cornetto, managing director of APM Terminals at Vado Ligure, told Xinhua.
“In Italy, the period required to create an infrastructure is very long. In this context, the arrival of COSCO has accelerated the conclusion … of the project,” Giuliano said.
The Vado Gateway is set to be the first semi-automated port in Italy with a fully-automated gate and stacking yard after the construction of the terminal is completed.
Anticipating booming transportation of goods at the terminal, logistic companies have rented or bought warehouses nearby in the hope of taking a slice of the cargo in the future.
“It is good that all these firms want to enter into Vado (Ligure) port. Now we have to develop the infrastructure to speed up the transportation process,” said Danilo Causa, who is in charge of the local transport federation of the Italian Confederation of Trade Unions.
“It would be useful if part of the investment in infrastructure could come from China. This would speed up the process, as in Italy it is quite slow,” he added.
The China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) provides “an extraordinary opportunity” for Italy and its ports in particular, Duci said.
The initiative refers to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, which is aimed at building trade and infrastructure networks connecting Asia with Europe, Africa and beyond.
If fully implemented, the initiative could boost global trade by 6.2 percent and by up to 9.7 percent for BRI corridor economies, according to a study published on June 18 by the World Bank.
Compared with established ports up north in Europe such as Rotterdam, Antwerp or Hamburg, Italian ports could save around five days’ sailing time for ships passing the Mediterranean, Duci said.
If the cost and time of land transfer of goods after their arrival by sea can be slashed, “we can be the real kingmaker of the European logistics,” Duci added.
Upbeat about business prospects of the terminal, locals have been looking forward to a brighter future, as they believe the project will boost employment.
Jobs will be created in “port labor, workshops, restaurant, everything that is developing around the terminal,” said Cornetto.