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Jebel Ali harbour in Dubai

Middle East - Expansion and evolution Sean Barker

Vast new ports in Kuwait, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman are jostling to upset the long-term dominance of Jebel Ali in Dubai, writes Sean Barker.

With limited local consumer populations, many ports have relied largely on transhipment, with their success linked to global economics. With increasing regional capacity, the slowing of the global container market will bring these neighbouring giants into keener competition. The Gulf states have created impressive industrial free zones close to their ports to lock in import and export trade. Recent announcements will see this trend continuing.

Iran has announced a number of port developments, including the proposed Chabahar development. It is being developed with assistance from Indian investors and aims to rival the Chinese-backed Gwadar port development in Pakistan. Iran’s emergence as a regional powerhouse servicing landlocked countries of central Asia, in addition to its own consumers, will have interesting impacts on regional trade flows in the Gulf. Strategic developments in Oman and Saudi Arabia and the proposed GCC rail freight network will also play roles in the future of shipping and port activity in the region.

The region’s ancient position as the meeting of East and West is set to continue, aided by widening of the Suez Canal which almost doubles capacity and halves transit times. The Canal is 20m deep and has no locks, so can already take the world’s biggest container ships. Its greater capacity will have an impact on regional and, potentially, global trade.

Dubai’s World Expo in 2020 and the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar will focus the world’s attention on the Gulf, with an expected economic dividend that will unquestionably be felt in the region’s ports.

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