The port sector has radically changed over the past two centuries. During the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, ports tended to be instruments of state or colonial powers and port access and egress was regarded as a means to control markets. Competition between ports was minimal and port-related costs were relatively insignificant in comparison to the high cost of ocean transport and inland transport. As a result, there was little incentive to improve port efficiency.
How times have changed! Most ports today are competing with one another on a global scale and, with the tremendous gains in productivity in ocean transport achieved over the past several decades, ports are now perceived to be the remaining controllable component in improving the efficiency of ocean transport logistics. This has generated the drive today to improve port efficiency, lower cargo handling costs, and integrate port services with other components of the global distribution network. Because of the capital intensity of such efficiency improvements, these have also generated the drive to unbind ports from the bureaucratic control of public entities and encourage private sector operation of a wide range of port-related activities.