Polish ports in 2050. What course should we take?

By Marek Grzybowski

The Polish Ports 2030 Congress opened a discussion on what role Polish seaports will play in the perspective of 2040 and even 2050. Ports around the world are developing extremely dynamically, driven by the needs of globalization. The Polish economy is becoming more and more integrated into the global economy and sea ports play an indisputable role in this.

The world is still running away from us and this is clearly visible by observing the latest data recorded by UCTAD in the form of the Country Liner Shipping Connectivity Index (LSCI). The latest (Q2 2024) liner shipping index (LSCI) shows that Asia-Pacific countries dominate. As many as 9 of the 15 largest economies are located in Asia, 5 in Europe and one, obviously, in North America.

Of these 15 countries, the most dynamic growth over the last 10 years has been recorded in Vietnam and India. The sharpest declines were recorded in Hong Kong, the Special Administrative Region of China and Germany. The best connected country in Africa is Morocco. The best connected country in Latin America and the Caribbean is, of course, Panama.
APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) GDP growth in 2023 exceeded both global and regional growth from a year ago. In the near term, APEC is expected to continue to grow, but at a moderate pace. Optimistic forecasts are hampered by uncertainty resulting from trade protectionism, persistent inflationary pressure and geopolitical tensions, including the customs policy of the United States and the EU.
“In 2023, APEC GDP accelerated to 3.5%, outperforming both global GDP growth and last year’s APEC growth of 2.6%,” report Rhea Crisologo Hernando, Glacer Niño A. Vasquez and Carlos Kuriyama, a group of analysts from Peru. They explain that this is partly the result of the region’s growing consumer demand and government spending.

China in Polish ports
From China alone, Poland imported goods worth USD 56.9 billion, and in 2021 USD 50.8 billion. Last year, goods worth USD 51.3 billion arrived from China, mainly on ships, according to data from the Central Statistical Office. In terms of value, it is approximately 14% of imports. And seaports play a significant role in this transfer. China was the second largest source of imported goods in 2023.
We export goods worth approximately USD 3.5 billion to China annually. Poland exports copper, furniture and food to China, and imports, among others: computers, mobile phones, components for household appliances, the automotive and electronics industries. We mainly import highly processed goods, including ships, but also clothing and textiles, as well as toys, games and sports goods. From Zakopane to Hel you can buy “local” souvenirs made in China. The construction of an electric car factory will generate demand for parts imported from China.
Polish ports are not the only beneficiaries of Chinese economic expansion. In fact, it would be fair to say that Polish ports are not the main elements of the global puzzle. This is well illustrated by the Port Liner Shipping Connectivity Index, which reflects the activity of economies and the oligopolization of the liner transport market:

13 of the top 15 container ports are in Asia

The latest (Q2 2024) Linear Shipping Connectivity Index (PLSCI) shows that 13 of the top 15 container ports are in Asia. Among the 15 strongest ports, Nansha, Qingdao and Ningbo have seen the fastest growth over the past 10 years.
Declines in container supply were recorded in Hong Kong, Rotterdam and Antwerp during this period. In Latin America and the Caribbean, Cartagena stands out for its linear connections. The best connected port in Africa is Tangier Med.
And it can be expected that African ports will benefit from the introduction of CO2 fees by the EU, because operators will optimize line connections and supplies of energy and other bulk raw materials. Large ships will shorten their crossing routes and stop in African ports, closer to Gibraltar, Le Havre, Antwerp or Rotterdam. From here, smaller ships will transport goods to more distant ports.
After studying the speeches at the Polish Ports 2030 Congress, can we try to predict what Polish seaports will be like in 2030? Probably not, because everyone was cautious in their forecasts. After the spikes in transshipment in recent years, we can expect their stabilization and even declines in supply.
The revival of Ukrainian ports will reduce the pressure on the transfer of cargo from Ukraine through Polish ports. Moreover, Black Sea ports in neighboring countries have already mastered land logistics well. Installation ports will not save the ports, although they may help them by reducing the costs of SHP investors.

So what should ports be prepared for in 2030?
During the “Panorama Forum”, editor Wojciech Suleciński asked an important question in the context of plans to withdraw one of the ocean connections from the Baltic Hub in Gdańsk: “Have we overinvested in infrastructure?” There is one answer: certainly not, if we take into account the strategic development goals of the Polish economy and its environment.
We can assume that in 2030 there will be no more war between Russia and Ukraine. The economies of both countries will shift from a war economy to a peace economy. It should be assumed that the economic activity of Belarus and Central European countries will also increase.
If the trend of active development of trade between Poland and Central and Eastern Europe with the economies of the Far and Middle East continues, high-quality infrastructure in Polish ports will be essential. Ports must “go out to sea” and receive significant support for rail and road access, and ships must be able to have a good approach from the sea.
Fleet modernization and green corridor programs between ports are a significant challenge for container and bulk terminals and seaport authorities. Ports that do not ensure the possibility of using energy while the ship is stationary, or that do not guarantee bunkering with ecological fuels, will have no reason to exist. Terminals that do not use renewable energy will be competitive with terminals that have moved away from devices powered by conventional fuels. These challenges should be treated as part of the competitive struggle. Ports must prepare today for the decreasing supply of energy raw materials after 2030.

DNV: There will be radical changes in energy supply and consumption
The energy balance of the economy until 2050 must be thoroughly analyzed by port authorities and terminal operators. They drew attention to radical changes in energy demand and supply during the seminar on June 18 this year. DNV representatives: Ditlev Engel, CEO of DNV – Energy Systems, Petra de Boer, Head of Energy Markets & Strategy, Christian Hewicker, Director, Energy Markets and Technology.
We are facing radical changes in the supply and consumption of energy by industry and consumers, justifying it with numerous charts, announced Onur Özgün, chief researcher at DNV, during the seminar. Remi Eriksen, CEO of the group, announced at the beginning of the seminar that “DNV forecasts that by 2040, 50% of global electricity demand will be covered by wind and solar power plants. This change will require a more holistic approach to electricity systems and will have a direct impact on national economies, energy security and the pace of the energy transition as a whole.”
These changes will have a significant impact on port activity. Port terminals in 2030 and their infrastructure must therefore be adapted to the challenges that are already forecast for the 2030s and 2040s.