Antwerp is world-famous for its seaport. With an annual turnover of about 170 million tonnes of international seaborne cargo, its Europe's second-largest seaport and ranks among the world's top ten.
The Port of Antwerp indeed plays a leading role in international trade. The world's ships are not merely turned round in Antwerp's docks, there are lots of specialists who attend to the warehousing, packing and repacking, distribution and forwarding of goods carried in them. This concentration of activities has enabled Antwerp to become an essential element of the European Union's import and export trade. Antwerp is far more than merely a Belgian port. After more than half the cargo it handles is either destined for or comes from other European countries.
Fourty per cent of Antwerp's goods traffic consists of bulk goods such as coal, ore, fertiliser, grain and so on. Unlike many other ports general cargo clearly predominates. The various port operators have invested heavily in specialized handling installations for trades such as iron and steel, fruit, forest products, cars, dangerous goods and sugar. It thus comes as no surprise that Antwerp is a market leader in many of these trades.
Antwerp has responded positively to the unitised load phenomenon. Nowadays 75% of all general cargo is packed in containers. Container throughput in the port reached 6.5 million TEU in 2005. Antwerp's container terminals pride themselves on their productivity and low costs, outdoing many of their European competitors. Not surprisingly Antwerp offers the best quality to price ratio of all North Sea ports.
Because it has specialized in non-containerized general cargo, Antwerp has been able to create an impressive amount of quality warehousing space. Currently the port operators offer a total of more than 5.2 million square metres of covered space. The immense storage capacity that it represents, an extensive range of complementary services and an excellent network of fast links with Europe's main centres of consumption and manufacturing has meant that Antwerp is a favourite location for siting distribution operations.
Apart from handling and distribution, numerous industrial activities have located in the port. Opel Belgium has for instance built one of its largest assembly plants in the Antwerp port area. However, the bulk of the industrial activity is either chemical or petrochemical. So great is the concentration of this kind of activity in the port that Antwerp has become one of the world's largest centres of chemical and petrochemical production, second only to Houston, Texas. Industrial activities in the port generate roughly 23% of maritime goods traffic. In return the port ensures that supplies of the required raw materials are cheap and uninterrupted.