The Last Mile: When did we become so global?

You just can't make this stuff up.

I was working on a story for the Breaking News section of our website, www.logisticstoday.com, wherein I noted that Rep. Peter King (R-NY), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, joined a chorus of voices expressing concern over DP World's acquisition of P&O Ports because it gives the Dubai-based group access to sensitive security measures at U.S. ports.

So guess what showed up in my inbox that same day? A press release stating the U.S. Surface Deployment and Distribution Command has renewed a long-standing contract with P&O Ports to handle stevedoring for the 842nd Transportation Battalion.

Somewhere in the six degrees of separation, this makes the government of the United Arab Emirates partly responsible for U.S. military deployments.

If you remember the first Persian Gulf War, there was a lot of shouting about the lack of U.S.-flag ocean carriers to shuttle sensitive military shipments to the region during the build up and subsequent military operations. In fact, the CEO of SeaLand at that time asked transportation journalists to hold off on discussing their role in the build up. I flew home from that meeting the next night, turned on the television and watched as we invaded Iraq. Talk about timing.

In the interim, U.S.-based logistics companies have become even more global and less U.S.-centric. In that time, P&O, a British company, has been operating U.S. marine terminals and SeaLand started flying a foreign flag.

Treasury Secretary John Snow is the former CEO of CSX, which once owned SeaLand, CSX World Terminals and a logistics company, CTI. Secretary Snow is chairman of the Treasury Department's Committee on Foreign Investment, which reviewed the DP World acquisition of P&O. Arguably, Snow would have more insight than most treasury secretaries into transportation matters, including maritime security.

In 2004, DP World, then operating as Dubai Ports International, acquired CSX World Terminals for $1.15 billion. Earlier, CSX had divested of SeaLand, selling to A.P. Moller-Maersk, a Danish company. In another step in fulfilling former CEO Snow's strategy for CSX to refocus on its core rail business, CSX sold a small logistics operation, CTI, based in Jacksonville. That group ended up with TNT, operator of the Dutch postal system and prime contractor for a number of European postal operations. As TNT Logistics, that former CSX holding also handles some U.S. Department of Defense contracts, all the time calling Amsterdam its headquarters city.

The global nature of logistics necessitates confidentiality on every level. From corporate data to security measures to troop movements, the multi-national network of logistics operators has respected the sensitivity of its job and, regardless of nationality, the suppliers are often a driving force on security of the people, goods, information and funds in their charge.

If we bar foreign operators from U.S. logistics operations, we'll have to redirect the momentum of an increasingly interdependent global economy that relies on a boundary-spanning logistics network of companies which are increasingly shedding their national identities to become global citizens.

Viewed another way, the P&O acquisition is a potent symbol of a fundamental shift to a truly global economy.

Perry A. Trunick,
executive editor,

[email protected]

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