Since most trade flows are imbalanced, gateways and inland ports are facing challenges concerning the repositioning of empty containers as well as their availability at inland locations. As one of the objectives of inland ports is the promotion of their regional economies, a proactive strategy concerns the functional pairing of an inland port with other inland ports so that additional cargo flows, both inbound and outbound, can be generated. Under such circumstances it is expected that a better reciprocity in trade flows can be achieved. Functional pairing concerns:
- The identification of main trade partners for the importers and exporters using the inland port. This enables to assess the concerned supply chains and their volumes.
- The evaluation of the commercial potential of pairing with new inland ports and in which way this can results in additional volumes. The potential can be assessed for the importers (where the paired inland port acts as an origin) and the exporters (where the paired inland port acts as a destination).
- Joint marketing strategies as paired inland ports seek to reinforce their respective traffic by finding customers that could set new functional relations and establish activities such as distribution centers at both locations.
- Pending sufficient volumes, container pools can be established to support specific trade relations as an inbound container becomes an outbound container after cargo rotation. This would help improve the availability of containers at inland locations.
- The inland port acting as a clearinghouse for transactions remains a potential strategy, particularly for commodities. This implies that an exporter establish a facility at the paired inland port and sells to customers at a spot rate as transport costs and delivery to the inland port is now assumed by the exporter.
A likely positive outcome of functional pairing is cheaper and more reliable transport costs along the concerned transport chains as greater volumes are achieved and as carriers provide additional capacity.