France Upgrades Its Ports

As the effort to privatize French port operations moves ahead, so do infrastructure improvements.

Labor difficulties arose after the government announced its intentions of privatizing container-handling operations at the country’s ports in January 2008. Some months of labor actions were undertaken that effectively disrupted trade. Finally, after unions received assurances from new employers that they would receive the same working conditions in private hands that they had previously. While other workers have been employees of private stevedores for more than 15 years, maintenance personnel and crane operators had continued to be employed by the government, under the port authorities.

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Seven of nine French ports have or are in the process of improving infrastructure, with particular emphasis on meeting new shipping requirements. The ports are Bordeaux, Dunkirk, La Rochelle, Le Havre, Marseilles, Nantes-Saint-Nazair and Rouen. Le Havre and Marseilles have already made investments in improving transport of bulk raw materials—coal and iron ore—answering needs for freight movement by containers and easing congestion problems. These two ports have become the country’s main intermodal interface.

In July 2008, a law was passed aimed at streamlining operations by opening concessions, and allowing port management and development to be run by private operators or through public-private partnerships.

In commenting on these recent moves, Olivier Cormier, president of Invest in France Agency, North America, says, “The government wants to reinforce the competitiveness and productivity of French ports. This means active significant investments ($586 million budgeted up to 2013) and private operators to increase average annual traffic from 3.5 to 10 million containers by 2015.”

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