Logistics is an invisible industry that quietly gets on with things, and most people are unaware of how important it is to the European economy. It is the backbone that provides the flow of goods on which other industries depend. Transport and logistics growth is directly linked with overall GDP growth.

For Europe, the two most important modes of transport for external trade are sea and air. More than two-thirds (68%) of Europe’s trade by value passes through its seaports, and by weight this figure rises to 87%. By value, Europe’s airports account for about 30% of goods being exported or imported. Air is best for low-weight and high-value items (airfreight provides safety, security and speed), and sea is best for bulky goods and products that are less time sensitive.

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Europe’s logistics infrastructure has evolved around the historical trading links between Europe, Asia and the Americas, with the Atlantic seaports in the highly populated countries of the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France and the UK becoming the dominant locations for Europe’s logistics activity. Nearly 60% of container tonnage passes through just four ports – Rotterdam, Antwerp, Bremerhaven and Hamburg. Similarly, the hub airports in these countries are the main centres for Europe’s airfreight.

Things may change though, with the significant increase in trade between Europe and Asia. New emerging gateway port locations for Europe in Turkey (the deep sea ports at Izmir and Mersin linking to Istanbul) and Poland (the tri-city ports of Gdansk, Gdynia and Sopot) are bringing new supply chain opportunities.  Ever larger container ships and the development of deep-water ports to handle them, is allowing supply chains to get closer to the end customer, and both Turkey and Poland are large growing markets as well as gateways to even bigger market areas.

In economic geography we tend to overlook the significance of the sea, but for the logistics industry in Europe almost everything starts from the water.    

Douglas Clark is director of Location Connections, a site selection and FDI consultancy. E-mail: douglas@locationconnections.com