Waiting times at sub-Saharan ports major obstacle

panorama-of-industrial-port.jpgCargo waiting time or delays at most African ports is a major bottleneck to trade and economic integration in Africa, a World Bank study on six African countries reveal.

Though road conditions are poor in much of sub-Saharan Africa, this research has shown that ports are major contributors to transport delays: cargo travelling from a port to a city in a landlocked sub-Saharan African country generally spends more of its time (75%) at the port than on the road.

The average cargo waiting time are 20 days and more than half of the time needed to transport cargo from ports to ­cities in landlocked countries in sub-Saharan Africa is wasted because of the time cargo spent in ports.

Good news for South Africa is that out of the six African ports under the scope of the study, South Africa's Durban port is the only exception when it comes to dwell times, on average only four days and the World Bank says this is in line with most international ports.

However, what has come the light is that instead of delays due to poor handling or operational issues the biggest holdups come in with transaction and storage time. One such example is the Douala port in Cameroon, where the port offers the cheapest option for importers to store goods up to 22 days– not external storage facilities. This means that some operators are generating large revenue from storage, and it's no surprise that customs brokers show no interest in reducing dwell time inefficiency as this cost is passed on to the importer and eventually the consumer.

This report however also highlights that Durban port can teach sub-Saharan African ports a few lessons — namely that the onus is on public sector players such as customs and the ports authorities to put pressure on the private sector of port users to comply and reduce cargo dwell times.

While Durban may remain top dog when it comes to the continent's ports, improvements elsewhere will undoubtedly have positive spin-offs for South Africa.

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