2 February 2024

In the Maersk warehouse in Singapore, February 6, 2023.

In Singapore, bottles of Veuve Clicquot champagne feel right at home. Despite the humid heat of February, the “World Gateway” warehouse, located near the port of the city-state, offers them the same freshness as the chalk pits in the basements of Reims, at the cost of air conditioning running at full speed.

Every year, oenologists even fly to ensure that bottles of champagne or Japanese whiskey are kept at the right temperature, protected from light. They remain there for a few weeks before being reshipped elsewhere, as are 90% of the unloadings in Singapore, the world’s second largest container port.

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, when the influx of goods clogged the planet’s ports, warehouses suddenly appeared as essential links in the supply chains. Here they are coveted by shipping companies, like Maersk or CMA CGM, who want to make them the cornerstone of their vertical integration strategy. The Danish company owns 452 (7.1 million square meters) worldwide, of which more than half, or 243 (3.9 million square meters), were purchased or built in 2022. It invited several journalists Europeans and Americans to visit the “World Gateway” in Singapore, which belongs to LF Logistics, a Chinese company acquired by Maersk in 2022, to bear witness to its transformation into “global container logistics integrator”. An ambitious bet, far from being won.

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In the huge building, monitored by cameras, which can hold 45,000 pallets to a height of 38 meters, nacelles swing up and down along narrow aisles to fetch boxes of luxury goods or pairs with their metal claws of sneakers. Delicate operations: the most expensive bottle of spirits passed here cost 200,000 Singaporean dollars (140,000 euros). Automation makes it possible to speed up the rotation of goods, while dispensing with labor, which is essentially immigrant, in a country where the population density is one of the highest in the world and where wages are four to five times greater than elsewhere in the region.

like a factory

It also allows storage at height. “Efficiency and automation offset the cost of land,” explains Thean Siak Sin, LF Logistics’ manager for Southeast Asia. Difficult for Singapore to further increase its territory, which has already grown by a quarter since its independence in 1965, at the cost of environmental disasters. The import of millions of tons of sand from neighboring countries has indeed diverted rivers and emptied beaches, and some, like Indonesia, have banned its export.

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