Home » SCMAP Perspective » As Strong As Its Weakest Link

HONG KONG — I have been flying to Hong Kong regularly for the past five years, but only now am I able to fully see the extent of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge, one of the flagship infrastructure projects of the Chinese government and widely seen as an important link in connecting the major cities of what is now termed as the “Greater Bay Area”.

 

Well, sure, I haven’t travelled through that. Not everybody can use the bridge: either you get a special permit to drive through it, or you go through a travel agency. But, up from the sky, as my plane approaches the Hong Kong International Airport, you will see what looks like a ship, but is actually one of the new artificial islands made to accommodate the tunnel that forms part of the 55-kilometer route.

 

The bridge has become a symbol of the closer integration between mainland China and the two Special Administrative Regions in the Pearl River Delta—Hong Kong and Macau —both politically (which inevitably comes with controversy) and economically. From a logistics point of view, shipments from Hong Kong to Zhuhai which would usually take four hours can now reach its destination in roughly 45 minutes, providing shippers with more options to deliver their wares to businesses, and providing a boon for manufacturers across the region.

 

I mention this because of a similar plan being hatched by the Philippine government, to build bridges that will link together the major islands of the country. The plans include bridges connecting all major islands of the Visayas; one connecting the Bicol region to Leyte; and one connecting Samar to Surigao in Mindanao. If all this goes to plan, we can, in theory, drive from Pagudpud in Ilocos Norte to Zamboanga.

 

The implications for Philippine supply chain are huge. The bridges would provide shippers with more means to transport their goods to different provinces in the country, and for cheaper, too. As our domestic shipping industry struggle with various issues – inadequate port facilities, outdated vessels, lack of personnel—that lead to inefficiencies and rises in costs, the completion of these bridges could both provide manufacturers a new means to strengthen their supply chains, and also rouse the shipping sector into further improving their services.

 

It is sad to note that our maritime sector has not kept up with new challenges and opportunities posed by the industries that relied on it. Not for lack of trying, of course, but many barriers—high investment requirements, lack of personnel—prevent them from doing more than they should. On the other hand, the historic lack of focus on sea infrastructure has long led to a strain on existing ports. While major ports boast of the latest equipment and technology that allow for better services (in theory, at least), others are still stuck with manual processes and aging equipment. Our shipping network is only as strong as its weakest link, and in an archipelago like the Philippines, this means a lot of unrealized potential and a higher-than-ideal cost for products, a cost which consumers have no choice but to shoulder.

 

However, government’s efforts to improve our road networks are bearing fruit, with a slew of infrastructure projects either under construction or fresh off its launch. (This also goes for public transportation, to an extent; the recent opening of the Parañaque Integrated Transport Exchange—what they call the country’s first “landport”—attests to that intention.) It’s understandable that land transportation would be the focus: it gets more attention in the news and on social media. You’re more likely to complain about traffic than about suboptimal service from shipping lines, after all, especially if you’re in the middle of the sea—try tweeting where you don’t have a signal.

 

Supply chains are not reliant on one mode of transportation alone. This has long been the case in the Philippines, where supply chain networks involve various forms of transport via land, sea or air if need be. Stakeholders across both the public and private sectors should then intensify efforts to work together to ensure that the development of our logistics networks is not limited to one mode only. It’s good that we have plans to connect the whole country by road, but that would not mean domestic sea transport would suffer—people will still choose that for whatever reason they have. We should work together both to resolve immediate issues—take the recent port congestion—and to ensure the sector develops and becomes an essential part of any Filipino supply chain manager’s arsenal to serve his customers better. After all, our supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Build bridges, but if the ships can’t compete with that, well, that would be a lot of waste.

 

Upcoming events: Join us this Thursday for our final General Membership Meeting of 2018, where we will discuss issues affecting supply chain as we hit the year-end peak periods, like port congestion and recent developments at the Bureau of Customs. It will be held at the EDSA Shangri-la Manila from 1pm to 5pm. Joining us are the Export Development Council’s Dr. Henry Basilio, the Association of International Shipping Lines’ Patrick Ronas and Atty. Max Cruz, and the Chamber of Customs Brokers’ Atty. Ferdinand Nague.

 

Also, SCMAP is once again a media partner for the upcoming Asian Logistics and Maritime Conference, which will be held on November 20-21 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. Organized by the Hong Kong SAR government and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, this event will tackle burning issues in the region’s supply chain and maritime industries. SCMAP members get a discount if they register.

 

For more information on these events and more, visit scmap.org.

 

Henrik Batallones is the marketing and communications executive of SCMAP. A former board director, he is also editor-in-chief of the organization’s official publication, Supply Chain Philippines. More information about SCMAP is available at scmap.org.

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