Belgian authorities approve merger of Antwerp and Zeebrugge ports

The Belgian Competition Authority (BMA) has officially approved the merger of the ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge. The two ports agreed in February last year to merge into one port. According to the Competition Commission, this concentration will not lead to market distortions.

Antwerp and Brugge (of which Zeebrugge is a sub-city) have been working on merging their ports for several years. Antwerp will receive an 80,2 per cent interest in the combined port, while Zeebrugge will receive another 19,8 per cent.

Port complementarity

Antwerp is an important chemical transhipment centre, while Zeebrugge is Europe’s largest car import port and a vital LNG supply port. Therefore, BMA’s research shows that the two ports are highly complementary. Combining the two will also contribute to a digital and green economy transition. In addition, the two ports have always had extensive connections with China-Europe freight trains.

The two ports are expected to handle around 278 million tonnes of cargo annually. That’s still a lot less than Europe’s largest port, Rotterdam, which handled nearly 470 million tonnes in 2019. In terms of container volumes, the Belgian merged port will handle around 157 million tonnes per year. This is roughly the same with Rotterdam.

With an annual throughput of 18,1 million tons, the recently born port of Antwerp-Zeebrugge will become the largest car transhipment port in Europe. In addition, gas transhipment at the combined ports will account for more than 15 per cent of Europe’s total volumes.

No violation of competition

The Belgian competition authority assessed what the planned merger would mean for port concessions and competition in markets such as container, liquid bulk and rolling stock transport. Ultimately, the committee concluded that “this merger plan meets the requirements for approval.”

According to a decision last year, the current CEO of the Port of Antwerp, Jacques Vermeiren, will become chairman of the board of directors of the port of Antwerp-Zeebrugge. He will work on improving connections between the two ports, including rail transport, inland shipping and pipelines.

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Author: Nikos Papatolios

Editor at RailFreight.com

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