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Singapore's US$40 bil mega-port takes aim at shipping chaos

As the world’s economies struggle to untangle unprecedented congestion in global supply chains, one of the world’s busiest ports is backing an ambitious modernization plan to provide solutions.

Singapore is forging ahead with a US$40 billion ($55.46 billion) project to build the world’s biggest automated port by 2040 — one that will double the existing space and feature drones and driverless vehicles. The city state started operations at two new berths last year, and construction work is continuing on the next phase.

It’s becoming more urgent for ports to add capacity and speed as the pandemic has changed the nature of global supply chains. The just-in-time system for shipping has broken down as exporters in Asia face obstacles getting goods transported to customers in the US and Europe, and the situation has only worsened this year with Covid lockdowns in China and the war in Ukraine.

Ports are the most visible choke points in the US$22 trillion arena for merchant trade, and a long-overdue transformation will require tackling a host of problems. Terminals are constrained by fading technology and limited space, while inefficiencies are compounded by containers piling up at yards and a short supply of workers and trucks.

Located in the Strait of Malacca, Singapore is a regular pit stop on container routes that connect Asian factories to consumers in Europe. The port, which handled the most trans-shipped cargo in the world in 2020, has come through the pandemic in better shape than most of its peers.

“Singapore is the world’s biggest trans-shipment hub, a position it will hold for years to come,” said Choi Na Young Hwan, head of the international logistics analysis team at think tank the Korea Maritime Institute. “Singapore is setting itself as a benchmark for other ports.”
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