Since its first container terminal came into service in July 2007, the port of Tanger Med has rocketed up global rankings, now placing as both Africa and the Mediterranean’s busiest port by container volume, according to Unctad’s liner shipping connectivity index.

Tanger Med Port Authority (TMPA), the public agency responsible for the management and infrastructure development of the port complex, has leveraged Tanger Med’s strategic position on the Strait of Gibraltar and its proximity to European markets to become a transhipment hub, servicing the 100,000 ships that pass by every year.

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“The key to its success has been location and liner/terminal affiliations that bring volume to the facility,” says Chantal McRoberts, a principal consultant at Drewry, an independent maritime research company.

With links to 186 ports in 77 countries, Tanger Med has been a draw for export-oriented companies setting up in nearby dedicated activity zones (TMZ). This includes Renault’s 300-hectare car plant at Melloussa, which has a direct railway link and terminal in the port for importing parts and exporting its vehicles.

“Tanger Med has become a logistics platform at the gates of Europe by playing on the operation of just-in-time production,” says Aziz Jaid, an economist in the North Africa office of the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa.

The value of exports from the port and nearby industrial platform has grown by more than 20% since 2017, reaching a record $8.8bn in 2019, according to TMZ figures.

Port complex

The Tanger Med port complex extends over 1000 hectares and two sites, encompassing four container terminals, a passenger and roll-on-roll-off (Ro-Ro) terminal. Annual handling capacity of the port is 9 million containers, 700,000 trucks and 1 million vehicles, according to TMZ figures.

The first three container terminals are operated by APM Terminals, the terminal operating arm of the world’s largest shipping company AP Moller and Maersk, and other major terminal operators Eurogate, CMA-CGM and Marsa Morocco, the kingdom’s main port operator.

The port also includes a railway terminal, connected to the main cities of the kingdom with an annual capacity of 400,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), a vehicle terminal serving automotive players such as Renault, and terminals for hydrocarbon, bulk and miscellaneous cargo.

The fourth container terminal, opened in June 2019 by APM Terminals, tripled the port’s handling capacity to 9 million TEUs.

Morten Engelstoft, the chief executive of APM Terminals, said upon its inauguration that the company had a long relationship with Morocco and was proud to ramp up its operations in the port.

“APM Terminals MedPort Tangier is a key junction in our global network, allowing us to serve our customers better and further facilitate global trade,” he added.

Equipped with remote-controlled quay cranes and automated rubber-tyred gantries (RMGs), APM’s new terminal “is one of the most advanced terminals within the port,” says Ms McRoberts.

Process improvements

Jaafar Mrhardy, the general director of TMZ, says that infrastructure, such as highways and digital processes currently in place between the nearby industrial zones and port, allows for optimal fluidity of flows.

“The platform is working on the digitalisation and technological improvements of its processes with the aim of constantly offering services at the forefront of international standards,” he clarified, adding that the port community system and gate access services are essential components of these upgrades.

The port community system was launched by TMPA in 2019 to provide paperless, centralised transactions that are integrated with customs. 

On top of extensive terminal operations, the Tanger Med Port Centre provides a variety of maritime and land transport links, a complex of offices for rent and other facilities. 

Logistics focus

Located in the heart of the port complex is Tanger Med Logistics Free Zone (ZFL), launched in 2008 to provide a platform for the establishment of logistics bases to cover Europe, the Mediterranean and Africa. 

More than 100 companies are installed within ZFL, including logistics operators, multinational distributors, international trading companies and port service providers. Major global names in international logistics have set up in the free zone, including Germany-based DHL, France-based Bollore Logistics and Switzerland-based Panalpina. 

Retailers have also set up regional logistics hubs in the port, including France’s Decathlon, Germany’s Adidas and Bosch, and the UAE's Emirates Logistics.

Mr Mrhardy says that an attractive aspect of Tanger Med’s value proposition is the support of national and international players in their installation process.

“We reinforce the offer with the possibility of constructing industrial logistics buildings in a six-month time frame,” he explained, adding that a team of 100 specialised engineers assist in this process. 

Jesko Hentschel, the World Bank’s director for the Maghreb region, says that “by broadening the industrial ecosystem around it and further enhancing its service cluster, Tanger Med has the potential to continue being an FDI magnet in Morocco.” 

Cost concerns

A benchmarking study of North African countries (excluding Libya) found that Morocco has the most developed logistics industry cluster, with a score 35% higher than the average, as well as the best infrastructure and accessibility, according to investment destination comparison tool fDi Benchmark. 

While the quality of the logistics offered by Tanger Med has helped Morocco garner the highest number of inbound logistics projects across the whole Maghreb region, there is room for improvement in its cost structure.

Marc Nassif, the chief executive of Renault’s Moroccan operations, says that logistics for their operations are “extremely smooth”, but there is still work to be done on the cost factor (see page XX) [check before publication]

“When the new port terminal comes fully in operation, logistics costs will definitely go in the right direction,” he added.

Covid-19 resilience

In the face of Covid-19 disruption, TMPA signed an agreement in May 2020 with other world-leading ports, such as Singapore, Shanghai and Rotterdam, to work towards the maintenance of supply chains.

While the direct impact of the pandemic is hard to quantify, Ms Roberts says that since 96% of flows through Tanger Med are transshipment, with the majority of Morocco’s gateway cargo going through Casablanca, it has been likely less impacted by Covid-19.

Given the port and concentration of logistics companies, Tanger Med is set to play a continued role in global supply chains at the intersection of Europe and Africa.

This article first appeared in the December/January print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.