The calm and reasoned response of the logistics community to the news that Dubai Ports World would acquire P&O Ports stood in stark contrast to the emotional response of U.S. citizens who feared what media misreported as Arab control of six major U.S. ports. The rapid response of the U.S. Congress may have had some heavy political motivation, but there was also real concern for homeland security — the Bush Administration's central theme since September 11, 2001.
This was a defining moment for logistics, and largely a missed opportunity. We'll pay the price for some time to come.
There were two basic failures that will open the door for legislators to press for tighter security measures at ports and possibly limit ownership of critical logistics infrastructure to U.S. entities.
First came a failure in perception. DP World's reputation for effective and efficient operations at ports around the world may have fostered some sense of relief and anticipation among U.S. importers who longed for improvements at U.S. ports. As far as security is concerned, logistics professionals (and U.S. Customs and Border Protection) recognize the greater risk is at the origin port or even further up the supply chain, not at the U.S. destination port. So the community, by and large, saw no issue in foreign ownership or tenancy of U.S.based marine terminals.
Second came a failure to act. Actually, the need to educate legislators and other key figures who would influence opinion when the DP World deal came to light existed well before the event. But once it was clear there were concerns over port security, the logistics community should have mobilized to reassure the public, through key opinion leaders, that a vast number of stake holders are working on securing the supply chain every day.
A good example of what can and ought to be done comes from the Retail Industry Leaders Association. It has sent letters to every Representative in the U.S. House and every Senator urging cautious and careful deliberation "before considering new legislation related to the security of our nation's seaports or commercial cargo." The group points out its members "have played a critical leadership role in helping to shape our nation's supply chain security policies." Further, "members have been committed to ensuring the safety and security of their supply chains."
What this should have said to lawmakers is that if there is any risk in dealing with a foreignowned terminal operation, the logistics community will recognize it and respond by moving away from those operators. In fact, a Logistics-Today.com poll showed 44% of you would change ports or carriers if there was a risk of delays from added security procedures at the terminals in question. Is there any doubt the number would be 100% if you perceived an actual security threat at those terminals?
The logistics profession needs strong, consistent advocacy. Kudos to the retailers for finding their voice. Unfortunately, we don't need a soloist, we need a chorus. Ask yourself what person or group right now best represents the needs and positions of the shipper community, and what specific guidance did they offer regarding the operation of our ports?
It's time to stop talking about what the groups professing advocacy for logistics and supply chain management should have done. It's time we focus instead on what we need to do right now.
Perry A. Trunick,