Over the past years, freight distribution worldwide has had tremendous convergence in terms of modes, infrastructure, terminals, and the implementation of technology. Behind this wholesome standardization of the global freight distribution systems is commercialization, as noted by Notteboom and Rodrigue (2008). Through such convergence, the emergence of practices such as global supply chain management has been possible. Such practices have in turn led to the reconciliation of aspects in business such as efficacy, price, capacity, and operational constraints.
Globally, numerous examples of strategies within the global supply chain abound. Such strategies, which include the establishment of global servicing networks by shipping companies, the setting of geographically diverse terminal ports by transnational port operators, and seamless distributions between production and consumption markets by logistic services among others, are the cornerstone of research and analysis in convergence. Furthermore, modern supply chain management favors the investigation and identification of pertinent harmonization and standardization strategies, which aid in improving productivity and overall efficacy.
However, although strong converging forces are at play within global logistics, it is still arguably variable, predominantly, when comparing Europe and North America. This variability originates from the fact that supply chains usually transpire over regional geographies, which require logistical strategies to account for the wider arrays of attributes such as modal preferences, policy and regulation, infrastructure ownership, and historical path dependency among others. Over time, various regions have always followed their path when it comes to the supply chain. Fundamentally, operational strategies have a heavy and daunting influence on regional distribution practices, which endure in spite of regulatory and technological alterations (Rodrigue & Notteboom, 2010). Therefore, this “regional effect” underscores the divergence of freight transportation; commensurately, making it relevant to analyze freight transportation systems comparatively.
As the two major markets globally, Europe and North America share copious commonalities particularly in terms of advanced freight distribution systems and a strong import role. However, the divergence between these two regions originates from the implementation of logistical strategies. Prior to the phenomenon of globalization, comparative studies indicated that Europe and North America had similar configurations in terms of logistical and transport networks.
Nonetheless, the emergences of globalization and ongoing regulatory changes have altered major elements within global supply chains in relation to the various regions of the world. In recent decades, three pertinent events resulted in the divergence of regional freight distribution systems. These events remain to be globalization, intermodal transportation, and economic integration. As such, the regionalism of freight distribution has a structure constructed from a set of functional corridors, gateways, governance, regulations, hinterlands, labor, and value chains, which are relevant in their respective regions.
Gateways, Corridors, and Hinterlands
Gateways accord a fundamental interface between global and regional transport systems within the global supply chain (Rodrigue, 2012). Such interfaces usually vary due to several factors such as policies, which prefer certain points of entry. Contrariwise, if left unimpeded, natural gateways stemming from factors such as accessibility and economic activity emerge. Within networks of global maritime shipping, various hubs have come up, which connect global and regional systems.
In North America, the highest level of economic activity concentration is along the coastal areas with predominant manufacturing and resource hinterlands. North American gateways and corridors are mainly commercial and are a smaller number with less developed port ranges. This is why few take part in international shipping networks. In Western Europe, the hinterland is not only dense along the coastline, but also towards the interior. Predominantly, this occurrence is observable along the Rhine river system and its tributaries, Neckar and Main. Also, in Italy, the economic centers encompassing Milan display intense economic activities, same as Madrid in central Spain, and the Liverpool-Manchester-Leeds belt in the United Kingdom. In addition, in Europe, numerous accesses to the hinterland are available from gateways such as Bremerhaven, Le Havre, Marseille, Hamburg, Barcelona, Antwerp, and Rotterdam by medium-distance corridors, which involves varieties of the road, rail, and barge service combinations.
Regulatory Framework and Governance
While regulatory frameworks between Europe and North America bare an unfolding convergence, policy implementation is significantly divergent. In North America, the implementation of policies is both sudden and profound and takes the shape of a paradigm shift. Example of policies implemented this way in North America is the Motor Carrier Act and the Staggers Act (Schmalensee & Wilson, 2016). However, while the implementation of these policies is sudden and abrupt, they reflect the participation and anticipation of major market players wholesomely. Contrariwise, in Europe, policy development takes on an incremental approach as consensus or compromise has to take place between various Member States who put their interests first.
Since Europe is highly diverse and complex, division of policymaking powers is between the European Union and its Member States as guided by the subsidiary principle defined within Article 5 of the Treaty of Maastricht (Rodrigue & Notteboom, 2010). Under this principle, the EU cannot take intermediary action unless the act proves efficient at the national, regional, and local levels. In terms of policy views, most North American and European systems of rail transport still operate passenger and freight. However, the European system eminently prioritizes passenger services as a mobility strategy within urban areas compared to North America.
Gateway logistics is constantly evolving due to various influences and factors such as market expansions and globalization, logistics integration and outsourcing, advances in information technologies, and containerization. Among customers, expectations of services are pushing for more reliability and flexibility, thereby, making international supply chains complicated. Moreover, this demand among customers is resultantly placing increased pressure on gateway logistics in terms of capacity and infrastructure. It is evident from various researches that in spite of noteworthy converging forces such as information technology, containerization, and globalization, cultural, political, and geographical attributes tend to bring about regionalism in freight distribution. Ultimately, the European freight transportation system is more interesting due to its robust and diverse nature.