Local Government and Ports: A Perfect Match?



Olaf Merk, Administrator Ports and Shipping, the International Transport Forum (ITF) at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Paris, France


Shipping and port operations have globalised with rapid pace over recent decades, with most of the economic benefits of ports spilling over regions, and most negative impacts staying close to ports. This leaves ports with the challenge of creating local value in order to sustain local support for port activity in the area. In this context, the question is if more local government involvement in ports is conducive to ports providing a positive impact locally.

Local government involvement in ports

This article distinguishes four different indicators: ownership of ports by local governments, the influence of local governments on the decision-making of port authorities, the port as an investment and revenue source for local governments, and local government influence over the staffing of a port. Exclusive ownership of ports by local governments is fairly rare, although it does occur in Northern Europe and the US. Most countries actually fall into hybrid models as either locally and nationally jointly-owned government ports, or because local governments own some categories of ports – usually the smaller ports – whilst national governments own other categories of ports – the larger ports. The majority of the 50 largest ports in the world are exclusively owned by their national governments, with just over a third owned by local governments. Exclusive national ownership of ports is as rare as exclusive local ownership, yet it is visible in countries such as Ireland, South Africa and Turkey. Although port ownership by government level usually follows a national pattern, there are some remarkable differences between ports in the same country. Finally, regional ownership of ports is fairly common in federal countries, such as the US, Australia and Germany, where states have responsibilities for port development. There are many ports that have some form or formalised local institutional representation, that is they have, within their main decision-making bodies, representatives that are appointed or assigned by local governments to serve their interests…. 

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