With the development of globalisation and the course of world history, the concept of food security has transformed and evolved. From a simple interpretation as food security (notably developed by Thomas Malthus) came a comprehensive understanding of food security, meaning not just the ability to ensure biological survival, but also the availability/affordability of food, its nutritional quality and sustainability of food systems. This is the approach taken by the UN and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Transporting goods by container was one of the most dramatic shapers of globalisation because it let businesses and consumers in North America and Europe benefit from far cheaper labour and production costs in other parts of the world. The development of the world’s major shipping routes, from East Asia to Europe, and from East Asia to the US, in turn enabled the rise in just in time.
Maritime transport underpins global supply chain linkages and economic interdependency, with shipping and ports estimated to handle over 80 per cent of global merchandise trade. As a result, when the pandemic broke out, the sector has worked as a transmission channel sending shockwaves across supply chains and regions. Most recently, the importance of the shipping sector was clearly highlighted by the Ever Given’s incident in the Suez Canal: one single event managed to shake international trade for several days, triggering delivery delays and relevant economic losses.
If we observe the network of great global cities, a clear pattern that emerges is that a large part of the most important ones (in terms of population, wealth, effectiveness, and quality of services) are port megacities. There evidently is relationship between sea economy, maritime transport, logistic services, and the development of coastal urban systems.
Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, Europe's ports have demonstrated their role as essential and critical infrastructures, crucial in the supply of necessary goods. This strategic function of ports should be better reflected in Europe's future policy as the cornerstone of a European sustainable, competitive, innovative and resilient transport system. The European Green Deal calls for a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from transport for the EU to become a climate-neutral economy by 2050.
2020 has been an exceptional year on many fronts, including international shipping routes. Following a first semester of deadlock, China has dominated global exchanges in the second half of 2020. Hence, the lockdowns in several European countries during this period has increased foreign demand for Chinese goods, including electronic devices and house appliances.
The environmental impacts of port activities and infrastructure are substantial, wide-reaching and multidimensional. They include polluting emissions, soil and water contamination, noise and vibration, with considerable health consequences on coastal communities and port cities' residents. Port activities also cause a wide range of external economic costs associated with congestion, waste management, land degradation, light and visual intrusion.
According to consolidated economic literature, SEZs are exceptional tools for catalyzing foreign direct investments, and especially in developed countries their use has been to introduce facilitations in the commercial logistics sector. Ports and airports are critical to the successful development of Special Economic Zones.
During the latter years, the notion of smartness has reached the maritime industry (for example, smart containers, smart supply chains, and smart ports) as an implementation of intelligent decision-making empowered by digitalisation. However, the combination of poor connectivity between ports and limited or no sharing of data about delayed arrivals between the carriers involved perpetuates the culture of first-come, first-served and a consequently low level of predictability for maritime transport.
The ever-increasing size and cargo volumes for commercial vessels require ports to be growingly digital, sustainable and connected. These requirements highlight the complexity of today’s port infrastructure and define the competitive environment. 5G, Internet of Things, Artificial Intelligence, autonomous transport and blockchain technology are the necessary tools of this competition. However, to become more efficient and handle higher volumes of goods, it is not enough to adopt these technologies.