Speech by the Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment, Melanie Schultz van Haegen, on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the ECT, Rotterdam.

The history of ECT symbolises the spirit of enterprise that made Rotterdam into one of the world’s largest ports.

Ladies and gentlemen,
1966 was a turbulent year.
In San Francisco, the Flower Power movement began…
In Amsterdam, the wedding of Princess Beatrix and Prince Claus was disrupted by a smoke bomb thrown by anarchists...
And Bob Dylan scored hits with the songs that won him the Nobel Prize for Literature this year...
All events that set the tone for the era.
In the same year, an event took place in Rotterdam that didn’t make the international headlines. In the Netherlands it had an enormous impact.
Somewhere in the port of Rotterdam, a group of companies set up a separate business to handle a completely new way of shipping goods.
Europe Container Terminals was born. It was the start of a new age.
Today, you are marking that event – and rightly so.
But first let me congratulate the staff of ECT on reaching this milestone. You have every reason to be proud.
The history of ECT symbolises the spirit of enterprise that made Rotterdam into one of the world’s largest ports.

Your history is closely connected with the container – now seen as the invention of the century.

Some people believe that in the past fifty years the container has done more for the growth of world trade than all the trade agreements put together.
You probably know how it all began...
The year was 1937. A 23-year-old trucker was in the port of Hoboken, near New York, watching as his cargo was loaded onto a ship.
It took hours.
The goods were loaded piece by piece. It took a whole lot of people and a whole lot of fuss. What a waste of time and money, he thought. Why can’t I just load my trailer onto the ship and be done with it?
Nearly twenty years later, he sold all his trucks and used the money to buy an old tanker, which he converted into a container ship. He took out a patent on a new, standard-sized container, loaded his ship with full containers, and launched a new era.
His name was Malcolm McLean. By the end of the 1960s, he had 27,000 containers, 36 ships and access to more than 30 ports.
His ship was the first container ship to dock at Rotterdam.
The world was knocking on the door.
ECT opened that door wide.

Innovation and pioneering is in your blood. You’ve proved that time and again.
Not only in 1966. But later, too.
For example in 1985, when you moved out to the Maasvlakte. Many people were surprised. Far away from the city, far away from the market. But you’d got it right. And you took a risk when you were the first to take Automated Guided Vehicles into service.

These days too, you need to innovate to keep your head above water in the highly competitive container market. That applies to ECT and to all of our seaports.
I’m committed to creating the best possible conditions to give the Netherlands a strongly competitive position.
Because we mustn’t forget that this country owes a lot to our seaports.
They are essential to our economy. They employ nearly 340 thousand people and attract a great deal of business.
The Netherlands has the best port infrastructure in the world.
And that’s one reason why we rank fourth in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index. We have never ranked so high!

But we certainly can’t take this strong position for granted.
You know that better than anyone.
Shippers and investors aren’t married to our seaports. They’re always on the lookout for the best opportunities worldwide.
In the container transport sector, we face fierce competition from our largest neighbours, Antwerp and Hamburg. Not least because of state support, a matter I continue to raise in Brussels.
Competition is a good thing, but it must be fair!
The current overcapacity in container shipping is another issue. Uncertainties following the problems of a major player like the Korean Hanjin Shipping also hurt ECT.

Of course, in a changing world, enterprise always involves some degree of risk. And risk brings opportunities, to which each company has its own response.
But I am convinced that there should also be a collective response, from the government, the seaport and the port operators.
I am delighted that two years ago we managed to produce a joint strategic work programme for all the Dutch seaports.
For the first time in history.
Parties now know where to find each other. They share more knowledge and experience. They made a joint contribution to the Energy Agreement for Sustainable Growth.
A work programme must be dynamic. That is why we are now working on the preparations for a new work programme for the seaports. I expect it to be ready in 2017.

We are also responding by improving access to the ports.
With projects like the deepening of the shipping channel in the New Waterway, that has very recently celebrated its 150th anniversary.

We’re also working to improve access by road. Construction of the Blankenburg Tunnel and the link between the A13 and A16 motorways will mean easier access to the Port of Rotterdam. New lanes have been added to the A15 motorway. The missing section of the A4 motorway between Delft and Schiedam has now been opened.
A high-quality link with the European hinterland is crucial, and we are working on it in many different ways.
Access by rail will be much improved when the Theemsweg line on the Betuwe Line is completed in 2020. We are also investing in our inland waterways.
The widening of the Twente Canal is particularly relevant to ECT. And the same goes for the work on the locks at Eefde and upgrading of the River Maas and Juliana Canal.  

We’re particularly interested in innovative measures.
Take, for example, opportunities presented by truck platooning, which allows trucks to drive very close together in convoy. That means less fuel, less congestion on the roads and fewer CO2 emissions.
We know that the technology works. In April this year, we were the first country in the world to conduct a cross-border trial with truck platooning. Now we have to apply the technology in practice.

The market is showing a keen interest.

I know that ECT is interested.
I’m not in the least surprised.
You have a history of innovation, of seizing opportunities and pioneering.
Fifty years ago, you gave the best possible response to the arrival of the first container ship in the Port of Rotterdam.
You have continually succeeded in finding new ways of improving your position. You are truly connected to the future.
And that gives us confidence in the future.
So here’s to the next 50 years!
I wish you every success.
Thank you.