Chapter 7.5 – Representing Port Interests

Author: Dr. Athanasios Pallis & Dr. Theo Notteboom

Port and port-related associations represent the interests of the port industry at the local, national, and international levels.

1. Port and Terminal Associations

Ports, port authorities, terminal operators, and other stakeholders have formed associations targeting information, best practices, and knowledge sharing, as well as advocacy interests in port policy-making processes. Port associations are formed on a global, regional, and national basis to represent common concerns and find an appropriate intervention scale. They are also formed based on special common interests, with regional port associations promoting regional consensus within global port systems.

The International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) has a global reach. Established in 1955, IAPH is a non-profit-making global alliance of more than 170 ports and 140 port-related organizations covering 90 countries. Its member ports handle more than 60% of international maritime trade and around 80% of world container traffic. IAPH has consultative status with several UN agencies, including the IMO. Through its knowledge base and access to regulatory bodies, IAPH aims to facilitate energy transition, accelerate digitalization and assist in improving the overall resilience of its member ports in a constantly changing world. In 2018, IAPH established the World Ports Sustainability Program (WPSP), together with ESPO, AAPA, PIANC, and AIVP. Guided by the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals, it aims to unite the sustainability efforts of ports worldwide by sharing best practices through its project portfolio and collaborative partnerships.

Regional associations of port authorities with membership expanding in many countries are present globally.

There are also associations of a smaller regional scale, with the participation of ports in proximity that are located in more than one country. An indicative example is the North Adriatic Ports Association (NAPA), established in 2010 to harmonize information systems and the organizational setup of the Croatian, Italian and Slovenian member ports. A more recent one is MEDports Association, created in 2018 by 20 African and European port authorities along the Mediterranean basin, which acts as a business development, cooperation, and promotion platform for its member ports. Another example is the Baltic Ports Organization (BPO), a regional port organization established in 1991 with an aim to facilitate cooperation among the ports and to monitor and improve the possibilities for shipping in the Baltic Sea region.

The Association of Pacific Ports (APP) is a trade and information association promoting increased efficiency and effectiveness. Its programs aim to enhance the technical and governance expertise of commissioners and other port officials through meetings, educational seminars, and the exchange of communications. However, not all regional efforts are successful. In Latin America, public and private ports and terminals from Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia led the formation of the 15 members strong Latin American Ports and Terminals Association, with a head office in Bogotá, Colombia.

Ports are typically associated at a national level. Depending on the institutional setting, national associations envisage a different role. In some countries, these are just professional associations aiming to build professional expertise and knowledge sharing. In others, they are also active in, or even focused on, shaping port and port-related policies at the national or even international level. In some cases, these national associations only cover a part of all national ports. For example, the Indian Ports Association fosters the growth and development of its major ports, which are under the supervisory control of the Ministry of Shipping.  

The specialization of port activities inevitably leads to associations representing the interests of ports or terminal operators in specific port markets. One example is the Association of Bulk Terminal Operators (ABTO), which aims to provide a forum for its members to discuss the issues impacting seaborne trade and the global transportation of bulk commodities. The most advanced example of this type of association is observed in the cruise port world.

At the terminal operator level, the International Cargo Handling Coordination Association (ICHCA), founded in 1952, is a non-government organization (NGO) dedicated to improving the safety, security, sustainability, productivity, and efficiency of cargo handling and goods movement by all modes and through all phases of national and international supply chains. ICHCA International operates through a series of autonomous national and regional chapters, including ICHCA Australia, ICHCA Japan, and ICHCA Canarias/Africa, and working groups. The organization represents its members and the cargo handling industry at large, before national and international agencies and regulatory bodies. 

In Europe, terminal operators have formed their regional association, the Federation of European Private Companies and Terminal Operators (FEPORT). Established in 1993, FEPORT represents the interests of a variety of terminal operators and stevedoring companies carrying out activities over 400 terminals in the seaports of the European Union. Inland ports are associated with the European Federation of Inland Ports (EFIP). In North America, terminal owners and operators have been joined by carriers operating throughout the world in the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association (PMSA), an independent, not-for-profit shipping association that is engaged in community affairs and legislative and regulatory processes in the U.S. West Coast states.

The importance of port-city relationships and the integration of ports for development purposes has led to a renaissance in port city associations. The International Association of Cities and Ports (AIVP) supports the need for dialogue between stakeholders concerned in port city projects. The 1900 AIVP stakeholders include city governments, port authorities and administrations, research institutes, and city developers. AIVP promotes international exchanges between port cities and encourages best practices for sustainable city-port projects that meet the aspirations of citizens. 

Next to the global, regional, and national level, individual ports usually feature a wide array of industry and branch organizations defending the interest of specific professions or activities in the port (e.g. freight forwarders, ship agents, terminal operators, industrial companies) or representing the interests of the entire (private company) port community. Most of these associations strongly focus on operational issues and inter-firm cooperation and exchanges affecting the overall functioning and performance of the port cluster or parts thereof. Still, some of them have widened their focus to include lobby activities at the national and supranational policy level. This is particularly the case for umbrella associations of large seaports with a strong and diverse private company portfolio and located in smaller countries. In larger countries, national private sector associations usually play a more prominent role in the dialogue with policymakers. The representation of port interests in seaports with a strong presence of state-owned port companies relies heavily on consultation between the relevant public actors at the different policy levels. 

Umbrella associations of private companies in Rotterdam and Antwerp

2. Trade Unions

Port labor has a long history of unionism, which can be traced back as early as the 19th century when the first modern longshoremen union was formed in the port of New York. Today, beyond the national level unions, dockers are associated in two umbrella organizations with a global presence:

  • The International Transport workers Federation (ITF) was established in 1896 as the International Federation of Dock and River Workers, and has become an umbrella organization with affiliated unions from approximately 150 countries. It has a section involved in issues facing port workers and dockers worldwide. The affiliates are unions that are organizing labor directly involved in cargo handling, those indirectly involved in cargo activities (such as those with members employed by port managers, agencies, and freight forwarders), and those representing workers employed by the state, city, or other authority, as well as by private companies. Regional federations of these trade unions are also present, such as the European Transport Workers Federation (ETF) which represents and advocates for the interests of port and terminal workers all over Europe.
  • The International Dockworkers Council (IDC) is a trade union federation composed of dockworkers’ organizations worldwide. Its basic principles define it as a working-class, unitary, independent, democratic, representative, and assembly organization. Membership is extensive on all continents except Asia. It includes major national unions, such as the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), representing dockworkers on the East Coast and West Coast of the US, respectively. In Asia, membership is limited to the Hong-Kong Dockers Union.

While national or port level unions might prioritize collective agreements and terms of employment at the local level, the themes of the main activities of the international and regional federations include:

  • Health and safety in the port industry.
  • Job security for port workers.
  • Issue-based campaigns, such as container safety.

The consequences of automation for port labor have generated trade union agendas and discussions on the future of port work and the search for a socially sustainable approach to technological developments. ETF is involved in the European sectoral Social Dialogue Committee, where it meets with port and terminal employers to discuss how to shape the future of dock work and promote policies and legislation that ensure jobs and protection of workers’ rights along with technological developments in European ports. In this context, ETF has also expressed an interest in promoting research on labor schemes and campaigning for job security in case of a change of port operator.

A notable development took place in 2016 when the ITF set up the Maersk network designed to promote the interests of those who are employed either directly or indirectly by this global company, in essence, acknowledging the role of global conglomerates that are horizontally and vertically integrated companies, The network has agreed, among other things, on two other main objectives. First, to put together a union training and development program to support new unions in APM terminals across the Arab World and Africa to build their bargaining capacity and establish strong unions. Second, to assess APM’s Latin America growth strategy and identify priorities for the global network terminals campaign.

3. Port Services Providers

Providers of services at ports have their associations, some having a global reach. The International Association of Dredging Companies (IADC) is the global umbrella organization for contractors in the private dredging industry. The International Association of Maritime Pilots (IMPA), launched in 1971, has over 8,000 members in more than 50 countries, with its principal objective being the promotion of professionally sound and safe pilotage services. The International Boatmen and Linesman Association has a similar role. It associates the personnel involved in mooring, unmooring operations, and also boatmen, the International Harbour Masters’ Association with members in more than 50 countries, and the International Tug Masters Association.

The members of these associations are also organized at regional and national levels. An example of the former type of associability in Europe is the presence of the European Dredging Association (EuDA), the European Harbour Masters Committee (EHMC), the European Maritime Pilots Association (EMPA), and the European Tugowners Association (ETA), with all of them being also active in interactions with European institutions and international organizations.

4. Port Users

Port users, shipowners, shippers, and freight forwarders, are all represented via respective associations at a global or regional level, alongside the many associations at the individual port level. Shipowners maintain a long tradition of being represented globally by either inclusive associations or associations representing specific market segments. One of the former is the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), whose membership comprises the national shipowners’ associations from 37 countries. Associations in the latter group include Intercargo, the International Association of Dry Cargo Shipowners, Intertanko, the International Association for Independent Tanker Owners, and Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). To these, one might add BIMCO, whose membership comprises owners, brokers, ships agents, and other operators. Regional level associations are also present, such as the European Community Shipowners Association (ECSA), which has been active since the early 1950s, with shipowners maintaining national unions as well.

Shippers are also active at the regional level. In Europe, the European Shippers’ Council (ESC) represents cargo owners from around 100,000 companies throughout Europe, whether manufacturers, retailers, or wholesalers. ESC, together with its counterparts in Asia (the Asian Shippers’ Association – ASA) and the US (the American Association of Exporters and Importers – AAEI), have formed the Global Shippers Alliance (GSA).

The International Federation of Freight Forwarders Associations (FIATA) is a non-governmental, membership-based organization representing freight forwarders in some 150 countries, with more than 100 Association Members and more than 5,500 individual members, overall representing an industry of 40,000 freight forwarding and logistics firms. Freight forwarders are also associated regionally, with CLECAT, the European Association for Forwarding, Transport, Logistics and Customs services represents freight forwarders in Europe.

Related Topics


  • Pallis A.A. (2007). Maritime Interests in the EU Policy-making: Structures, Practices and Governability of Collective Action. WMU Journal of Maritime Affairs, 6(1), 3-20.
  • Pallis Α.Α. (2008). Lobbying EU Institutions: Strategies and Governance of Contending Maritime Interests. Current Politics and Economics of Europe, 19(3), 179-202.
  • Pallis A.A. and Tsiotsis S.G.P. (2008). Maritime Interests and the EU Port Services Directive. European Transport, 38, 17-31.