Discussing intermodal connectivity with Director of the Swiss Shippers Council

Muster Phillippe Muster is the Director of the Swiss Shippers Council (SSC), an association of Swiss shippers that acts as a neutral voice for the interests of the industry in cross-border and national freight transportation.

With the opening of Switzerland’s Ceneri Base Tunnel in September this year, the final section of the Gotthard Base Tunnel that now runs for 57 kilometres along the Swiss Alps, provides shippers with the option to move cargoes from Italian ports directly into Central Europe by rail.

To learn more about what the completion of the final section of the tunnel means for Swiss shippers, Contship Italia reaches out to Phillippe Muster, Director of the Swiss Shippers Council (SSC), an association of Swiss shippers which acts as a neutral voice for the interests of industry in cross-border and national freight transportation.


Mr. Muster, the Gotthard Base Tunnel is expected to cut the freight transport time between Zurich/Basel and Milan – how does the tunnel encourage Swiss shippers to shift their freight from road to rail?

P. Muster: Many shippers already use various services via the Ligurian Ports for imports and exports and they appreciate reliable and short connections to the ports and the inland hubs for continental traffic. If shipping lines, rail operators and forwarders can transfer this advantage into a unique service the shippers will increase the shift to rail further.

If shippers use the northern ports they do so because it’s a question of time and money and not so much about sustainability issues such as the reduction of C02 emissions. But there is no doubt that awareness of this vital issue has increased and sustainability will be a higher priority eventually. But the highly competitive nature of the markets now means that bottom-line issues will predominate.

The Swiss parliament recently reached agreement on a new CO2 law which includes a package of incentives to achieve the country’s climate goals. The Swiss authorities aim to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2030 relative to 1990 levels.

The new law introduces numerous incentives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with the Paris Agreement signed in 2015. Three-quarters of the reductions in CO2 emissions will have to be achieved in Switzerland and the rest from abroad.


With the completion of Gotthard tunnel, how do you see Italy’s role in being one of the maritime gateways for Switzerland as well as continental Europe? Will this tunnel increase Southern Gateway’s competitiveness compared to the northern ports?

PM: It is important that all participants in the supply chain do their homework. It is therefore vital that the transport leg from the “tunnel” to the inland hubs and ports is efficient and reliable as well. The support of the Italian government and the port operators is very important to improve and maintain the infrastructure.

So it is a big step forward now the infrastructure is finally finished. It gives shippers a genuinely new option in terms of how they get their cargo into central Europe. But there won’t be a massive switch to the southern ports overnight. Don’t forget the northern ports continue to have awesome processes and customer relationships and their logistics partners focus on saving time and money firstly. Allied to these issues, we note that customs procedures in the Netherlands and Germany are easier than in Italy.


Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga mentioned in the opening ceremony that “The tunnel is a competitive advantage for Switzerland and a sustainable transport policy” – From your point of view, how does sustainable transport policy allow Swiss companies to stay competitive?

PM: For Swiss shippers to stay competitive it is most important to have easy and reliable access to all important gateways within Europe. If the access can be achieved by a sustainable mode of transportation it is an ideal situation.

The move to rail from road has been ongoing for almost 30 years and in practice much cargo already goes by train through Switzerland and up into central Europe. There will be a further shift from road to rail over the next few years, but it won’t be dramatic as this move has been taking place for more than two decades already.


What is the biggest hurdle for Swiss shippers to adopt a sustainable transport policy?

PM: “Time is money” is the deciding factor for any supply chain manager. Short transit times, reliable services and various modes of transportation are therefore crucial. Swiss shippers are in a good position to have multiple sustainable options including rail or Rhine barge services. But the most important factor is that the options are competitive.


How have your members coped with the COVID-19 outbreak?

PM: There are different voices in our industry and some voices say logistics has not been greatly affected as far as containers arriving from Asia. It was certainly slower in the early part of 2020 and volumes were down when the virus was flaring in China. But there were no fundamental problems after that period. There were some problems at customs, so the authorities made green lanes for the trucks for the containers during March and April, so that was really good. At the start there were problems which spilled over into other industrial sectors when goods were not ready which led to the wider economy dropping. But the logistics sector was not the worst affected. The major problems in the logistics sector came in the air freight business and this was devastated and continues to be very challenging.


What is the outlook for 2021?

PM: We are beginning to see some light, so we are optimistic about 2021. But having said that we operate in tough global markets and sadly the unsuccessful companies will fail and we won’t see them again. But the survivors will be stronger as they have been able to adapt and innovate. I am confident about the Swiss logistics sector because it is fundamentally strong. We have major issues for the Swiss tourism industry and that will take a long time to put right. But imports and exports will rebound next year - and we feel good about that.