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									    II. The Bordeaux harbour in the twentieth century: The attempt to keep
             contact with large networks of logistics and transport

         Hubert Bonin, professor of economic history at the Institut d’études politiques de Bordeaux (Centre
                     Montesquieu d’histoire économique-Bordeaux 4 University)[]

The evolution of the Bordeaux harbour relied on its insertion into the national and
international division of production, and therefore of transport and logistics: Like every
important port, it ambitioned to assert itself as a key platform for international exchanges,
either on a European level, or on a trans-Oceanic level. Bordeaux’s memory is still with
greatness, all the more than the development of the quays has been durably impressively
huge: up to the 1970s, a large part of the town did live alongside the port, before the actual
expansion took place in the new services and industry zones of activity spreading in the
suburbs, far from the Garonne. The whole history of the Bordeaux harbour in the 20th
century lies with the struggle against threats of decline, to stick to heritage and sources of
employment, which required to follow the cycles of exchanges, up to the ultimate failure,
when it appeared, from the 1990s, that the Bordeaux harbour was no longer a transoceanic

The jolts of Bordeaux maritime history were not due to foibles in entrepreneurship,
because important investments1 have been constantly achieved to modernise the facilities,
by the State and the Chamber of commerce2, then since 1925, by the Port autonome de
Bordeaux, a mixed company ghzathering the state and businessmen’s institutions. Before
WW1, the fairway was deeply dredged to welcome larger ship; in the interwar, the Bassens
quays3 were developed on the right bank of the Garonne and well equipped with
storehouses, whilst a series of modern warehouses were built all along the left bank (some
of them thanks to German Repairs); after ther ebuilding of destroyed facilities 4, in the
1950s-1960s, numerous equipments were set up (new cranes5, cold stores, etc.) and even
an outer habour was inaugurated in 1976 at Le Verdon, at the entrance of the Gironde, in
order to avoid dependance on tides and on depth; last, the facilities were adapted to
containerisation with special zones (Bordeaux Fret). Nonetheless, these investments did
not suffice to block the attacks of competition and to question therefore the
competitiveness, and even the functions, of the Bordeaux harbour. We shall thus gauge
this effort of adaptation on three thematical levels: the endeavours to be involved in
international (worldwide and European) maritime flows; the involvement of the Bordeaux
harbour to the expansion of the imperial economy overseas; and the regional basis of its

1. The dream of an international port

On the Atlantic shore, Bilbao, Nantes-Saint-Nazaire, Le Havre, Dunkerque, and the
Belgian and Dutch ports competed to become “regional doors” to international maritime
exchanges as leverages to develop large hinterlands. Bordeaux presented a competitive
edge with the penetration to South-Western parts of France and moreoever a well

1 Robert Chevet, Le port de Bordeaux au XXe siècle, Bordeaux, L’Horizon chimérique, 1995.
2 Paul Butel (ed.), Histoire de la Chambre de commerce et d’industrie de Bordeaux, Bordeaux, CCIB, 1987.
3 The US troops built the first facilities there during WW1 as Bordeaux was used as one of the key facilities

zone by the Allied forces in 1917-1919.
4 Antoine Lebègue, « La stratégie du port de Boreaux, projets novateurs et poids des traditions », in Hubert

Bonin, Sylvie Guillaume & Bernard Lachaise (eds.), Bordeaux & la Gironde pendant la Reconstruction
(1945-1954), Pessac, Publications de la Maison des sciences de l’homme d’Aquitaine, 1997, p. 47-60.
5 In 1970, the Bordeaux harbour was equipped with 141 cranes active on the quays, with 5 floating cranes and

with a mobile aspirator for cereals.
positioned location as a relay before entering the Atlantic routes, or before Atlantic lines
joined North-West Europe – even if Cherbourg and Le Havre could easily overturn
Bordeaux for this activity. Such a “function of relay” benefitted passengers lines joining
Latin America, because people could join Bordeaux by train from South Europe or from
Paris to embark the ships on the Garonne – thus gaining several hours in duration – and
even on the Gironde. The Pauillac concrete wharf was inaugurated in 1929 to accelerate
such passengers’ process (with a direct access to train), and the Verdon terminal was
conceived later on along the same principle, but it lived only from the 1930s to its
destruction by bombing in 1945. Italian emigrants used commonly the Bordeaux harbour,
and, on other classes, bourgeois and businessmen travelling to Latin America were key
customers to the Bordeaux harbour – for instance those having business networks in Chile
or Argentina.

     Passengers transit through the Bordeaux harbour in 1920 (by Chargeurs réunis & Sud-Atlantique and Compagnie générale
        Total                  Latin America              North America              West Africa               Morocco
       57,598                      17,035                     6,454                    10,581                   23,363

For bulk transit, the Bordeaux harbour was in fact rarely inserted into international flows.
Through the century, Le Havre-Rouen captured the majority of the imports of
commodities for the French (and even Swiss) industry (cotton, North-Europe woods) and
shared wool imports with Dunkerque. From the 1950s Le Havre and Dunkerque became
the key Atlantic port for petroleum imports oriented toward the supply of the whole
northern part of France and especially Paris; and they were joined by Nantes for liquid gas
imports, all the more because petrochemical plants got rooted all along the Seine valley
(for Le Havre), whilst heavy industries prospered in Dunkerque from the 1950s (drawing
thus coal, iron and alumine imports). The key role of such northern ports in fostering
national-sized industries explained their function of “doors” to large and intensively
developed hinterlands, whereas Bordeaux’ hinterland was large indeed but a lightly
industrialised one.

Besides Ford cars between 1917 and 1923 – before the Bordeaux plant assembling Ford Ts
was transferred to Asnières, near Paris –, the only transit activities reaching international
flows were confined to wool, cold-fish, and wood... Wools were imported from Latin
America (Argentina) to feed textile activities in the whole South-West industrial regions,
which, from the 1840s up to the 1960s, had reached national-sized developments (Castres,
Mazamet, the Aude valley, etc.). Despite seeming futile, the cod-fish transits placed
Bordeaux as a key world-wide place6: on one side, its ship were active all over North-
Atlantic American coasts with thousands of fishermen and seamen (both generally coming
each year from their Britanny residence); dozens of fisheries (mainly in Bègles, in the
Bordeaux suburbs) transformed the catch into salt cod; and this one was dispatched all
over south-western Europe because consumption was high in Spain, Portugal and Italy,
not only in southern France. Such fishing fleets gathered dozens of ship7 in the midst of the
Bordeaux harbour in the winter, giving it its “pittoresque” appearance; but a major
consequence was the effects on ship building, sail production, then motor production, and
maintenance because they needed massive amounts of equipment. The very last three
boats involved in such fishing were sold at the end of the 1980s, because the evolution of
consumption due to new standards of life led to the closure of the fish industry in Gironde
in the 1960s-1970s.

6 Philippe Fournet, « Redémarage et renouveau de l’économie morutière bordelaise (1945-1955) », in Hubert
Bonin, Sylvie Guillaume & Bernard Lachaise (eds.), Bordeaux & la Gironde pendant la Reconstruction,
p. 69-77.
7 In 1931, the Bordeaux cod-fishing activity gathered 123 ships, among which 57 trawlers.
While cod-fish fishing, transformation, and transit owing to Bordeaux involvement helped
feed popular classes in Southern Europe, the Bordeaux harbour exported huge cargoes of
pine wood from the Landes forest to collieries in Great Britain, where they propped up
mines, and of railway sleepers. This very low cost production became a specialty of South-
Western France, which thus indirectly took part to industrial revolutions across the Ocean.
Such wood export through Bordeaux (supplemented by a few ones through Bayonne)
reached their climax in the 1910s-1920s (except in 1926 because of the British miners’s
general strike) and once more immediately after the Second World War. But the decline of
collieries overthere and the modernisation of propping techniques explain the slowdown of
such exports in the 1960s and their disappearance afterwards.

The sole (but well-known) specialty of the Gironde economy comprised the bordeaux
wines, supplemented by a few spirits (anisette Marie Brizard8, etc.) and rums elaborated
in Bordeaux with spices and alcohols imported from abroad. Whereas the main outlet for
common wines was found in France itself, numerous barrels and crates of wines were
exported to foreign countries (for wealthy customers and public orders) – even during the
US Prohibition in the interwar because sales got through (French) Saint-Pierre-et-
Miquelon and then Canada. At these times, a huge majority of these exports were tackled
by maritime transit, which provided return cargo to ship stopping at the Bordeaux harbour
with north-Europe products for regional consumption or ship-yards (woods, mechanics,
etc.), with American raw materials or with Asian specialties (silk, etc.). Anyway, wines and
alcohols cargoes did not fill ship-holds, but, considering values, with the help of a few
cognac crates and barrels transitting through Bordeaux instead of La Rochelle-La Pallice,
they provided an important turnover to forwarding agents and ship-management. The
leading markets were Germany (more than a third of exports in the 1930s) and the United
Kingdom, followed by the Baltic countries (with Russia quite disappearing from the
1920s); correspondent traders supported wine trade-houses in these areas and network of
banking exchange propped up these flows.

     Traffic through a few ports in 1970 (millions of tons)
France                                           219
Marseille                                        74
Le Havre                                         58
Dunkerque                                        25
Rouen                                            13
Nantes-Saint-Nazaire                             11
Bordeaux                                         11
Anvers                                           78
Rotterdam                                        255

A conclusive balance of the history of the Bordeaux harbour up to the 1970s is clearcut: it
international function was restricted to a very few areas. It lacked the function of
redistribution which caused the prosperity of Belgian and Dutch ports and of its French
competitors in Dunkerque and Le Havre-Rouen; its industrial hinterland did not reach
important sizes, which explained meager flows of imports or exports. The Bordeaux
harbour was inserted in international networks for a very few articles: cod-fish, wool,
wood, and wine and alcohols. This did not provide bulk traffics one one side, and this
fostered only an ephemere cycle (for cod-fish, wood, and wool) on the other side. And the
international dimension was often limited to a Europeanised network of maritime links –
especially for wines, wood, or salt-cod, for example.

The key question raised for the last quarter of the century and for present times is the
competitiveness of the Bordeaux harbour for such worldwide or European networks. The
perception of the ports’s foibles led to investments to create a terminal direct to ocean at

8   Hubert Bonin, Marie Brizard (1755-1995), Bordeaux, L’Horizon chimérique, 1995.
Le Verdon, no more for passengers transits, but for commercial flows. It was inaugurated
in 1974, but first was weakly linked by relevant transport means to the hinterland (through
an old railway dedicated to tourism, and a narrow local road) and, second, it was plagued
by the high costs of French harbouring system9; if larger ports could resist such handicaps,
the Bordeaux one was unable to overcome competition. Even the Ford plants producing in
Bordeaux-Blanquefort equipment for American cars since the 1970s used Le Havre and
even Anvers ports, joined by trucks...

Despite its modernisation, the Bordeaux harbour was ousted from the worldwide sea-
roads, that is from the container lines; no international circuit stopped in Bordeaux any
longer when the classical bulk lines disappeared in the 1970s-1980s. This explains that
Bordeaux became a secundary port, attended once or twice a week by the ship of one or
two “feeders” lines, that is small ship charging containers to join larger North-European
ports and getting there in touch with worldwide lines; and, since 2005, several times a
month, special barges started moving parts of the Airbus A380 plane from Pauillac –
downstream – to Langon – upstream –, before being moved by trucks to the Toulouse
assembling plant. This entry of the Bordeaux harbour into heritage might be symbolised by
its insertion into the worldwide circuits of cruise ship: cruise lines, from the Canary Islands
to the Channel, have involved Bordeaux in their regular stops (about 20 to 40 boats a
year), allowing wealthy (North-American) passengers to tour Gironde wineries.

2. The booming imperial functions of the Bordeaux harbour: From reality to

In the meanwhile anyway, the Bordeaux harbour reached another worldwide dimension as
a key stakeholder in the French imperial economy, extended to Morocco since the 1910s.
This was somewhat a great opportunity for Bordeaux entrepreneurs, because several
dozens important – and national-sized – trade-house managed wholesale and retail
trading all over Black Africa (Maurel & Prom, Maurel Frères, Vezia, etc.) or Indochina
(Denis Frères) from Bordeaux itself; local banks or local branch of Paris banks sustained
these commercial activities, etc. But we have to ponder the actual effects of such networks
for the Bordeaux harbour itself: how much did they provoke effective traffic cargos? If
orders were placed from Bordeaux, a huge majority was sent to other regions and countries
which managed the cargo transit through other French or foreign ports than Bordeaux.
And the same for commodities imports, managed at the Bordeaux headquarters, but a
majority of which were dispatched to other regions and ports without transitting through
Bordeaux at all; which explains that Bordeaux did not transform into Liverpool or
Hamburg as a port with a reexporting function in the 20th century – conversely to what
occurred in the18th century.

A majority of the activities of Bordeaux trading houses led to the expansion of other ports
because cargoes flew from other regions or even countries, and numerous imports were
also shipped directly to other harbours, like cocoa, rum10, or groundnuts. Anyway, the
Bordeaux harbour drew all over from its local industries or from its Southern-France
hinterland a lot of equipment goods for the empire (metal equipment for building; shoes,
hats and clothing; pumping facilities; agricultural tools and machines; etc.), of food

9 A progressive social law fixed in 1947 strict conditions of harbouring activities, without any flexibility to
adapt to irregular shipping transit and to shorten delays of attending port facilities, in the name of massive
employment versus productivity and low cost, and huge strikes blocked each French port in the 1970s-1990s
when reforms were going on.
10 Philippe Fournet, « Bordeaux, capitale française du négoce et de l’industrie du rhum », in Alain Huetz de

Lemps & Philippe Roudié (eds.), Eaux-de-vie et spiritueux, Bordeaux, CNRS, 1982. Yves Péhaut, « Le
commerce et l’industrie du rhum à Bordeaux », Les Cahiers d’outre-mer, 1953, p. 352-363.
(especially tinned food, a specialty of Bordeaux11), of alcohols, spirits (kina, Marie Brizard,
etc.) and middle-range wines. Factories producting cement or equipment in cement (pipes,
etc.) contributed to exports to African ports, besides their regional markets. This led to
special regular lines (mainly Compagnie générale transatlantique, Chargeurs réunis,
from Paris12; but also Delmas-Vieljeux, from La Rochelle, Compagnie nantaise de
navigation, or else) picking up cargoes in the Bordeaux harbour, either direct lines
managed by local shiphandlers, or European (from Scandinavia, especially) and French
lines calling at Bordeaux in order to join Africa.

Fierce competition opposed Le Havre, Nantes and Bordeaux for the Carraibean lines to
collect commodities; but Bordeaux equalled Le Havre for products coming from French
Antilles (rum, sugar) and it played a key part for Senegal gum (sold to chemicals). It did
not however play a key role in the national cocoa imports despite the existence of the big
Touton trading firm, nor did it transform itself into the door to the whole French markets
for the tropical productions: its imports were dedicated to southern France only. Figures
about the Bordeaux industries prove that the four sugar plants in 1903 (Abribat-Bordes,
then Saint-Rémi; Tessandier, then Sainte-Croix; Bertault-Tivoli, Frugès), reduced to a sole
one in the 1930s (Say, with a record at 87,000 tons in 1977, just before its closure in 1984)
transforming sugar cane (from the Antilles or La Réunion islands), or the four factories
(Grande Huilerie bordelaise, Huilerie franco-coloniale, Astra-Calvé-Unilever, Maurel
frères & Maurel et Prom) processing African groundnuts to produce oil13 – the two still in
activity in 1970 and producing 14 percent of French oil, before only small one survived
from the 1970s; or the dozens of little of coffee roasters and merchants, all found their
outlets only in Southern parts of France, where the boundaries of the zones of influence of
each large colonial port (Nantes, Bordeaux, Marseille) moved alongside the rhythm of
business dynamism. And the key Paris market was barely reached by these Bordeaux
companies, because Le Havre-Rouen (for coffee and cocoa, or rum) and Dunkerque (with
the leader of oil industrialists, Lesieur) were its main providers.

  Imports from the French empire through the Bordeaux harbour in
                               1929 (tons)
Phosphates (North Africa)                           173,700
Groundnuts (Black Africa)                          137,000
Woods                                               38,450
Cereals (from North Africa)                         20,300
Flour and semolina from Algéria and Morocco          3,350
Indochina rice                                      18,000
Rums                                                19,000
Spirits from Algeria                                 2,100
Raw sugar from Antilles                             10,000
Bran and rush (Morocco)                              6,000
Vegetables and fruits from North Africa              5,600
Bananas from Guinea                                  2,300
Coffee and cocoa                                     1,700
Wools and skins                                      2,000
Cork                                                 2,000
Gums and rubber                                      1,200
Total (for a value of FRF 750 million)             580,000

Even for “colonial woods”, that is wood more and more imported from Central Africa,
where some Bordeaux businessmen invested durably, either in forest plantation, or in
wholesale trading, the outlets were merely regional because Rouen, for instance, drew

11Hubert Bonin, « L’industrie agro-alimentaire du grand Sud-Ouest (19e-20e siècles). Un renversement
historique du positionnement dans les flux économiques », in Jacques Marseille (ed.), Les industries agro-
alimentaires en France. Histoire & performances, Paris, Le Monde Éditions, 1997, pp. 121-160.

12 Elie Desplats & Jacques Quénivet, Les compagnies maritimes à Bordeaux, Bordeaux, Les Cahiers de la
Mémoire, 1993.
13 Philippe Terrasson, L’industrie huilière en France et en Aquitaine, de 1945 à 1993, Bordeaux, 1995.
much more logs (for building or furniture). The same remark concerns phosphates coming
from North Africa, which were used in fertilisers plants for regional agriculture – even if a
few fertilisers were exported afterwards through tramping towards some other Atlantic
French regions, and perhapts to North Africa. Thus, except for arabic gums, the Bordeaux
harbour did not play a national-size part for commodities, even if the consumption of its
plants caused a huge traffic with Africa; it reached for example 580,000 tons for imports in
1929, faced by 220,000 tons in exports to Africa; both, with 15 per cent of the ship transit
and 25 per cent of the value of the freight; these last figures indicate that Africa was not in
fact the main leverage of the expansion of the Bordeaux harbour, but only a shrunk of it. As
for the relationship with North Africa, the Bordeaux harbour endured an unequal
competition –because of geographical proximity) with its Mediterranean rivals (Marseille,
Sète, and even Port-Vendres), and its very strength laid with phopsophates imorted for its
fertilizers plants and the agricutlure of its hinterland.

 The relations betwen Bordeaux and North Africa: Imports through the Bordeaux harbour in 1931 (in tons)
                                  Algeria                    Tunisia                   Morocco
Phosphates                         17,444                     79,173                    9,250
Wine                              13,680                      2,027
Cereals                             1,023                     4,320                     18,103
Flour and semolina                 2,583                                                 1,681
Woods                                                                                   2,180
Rush                                2,167

  The relations betwen Bordeaux and North Africa: Exports through the Bordeaux harbour in 1931 (in tons)
                                   Algeria                    Tunisia                   Morocco
Woord for building                 11,666                                                3,052
Refined sugar                       2,988                      3,895                      3,101
Cars, cycles, railwaycars,                                                               4,066
Machines, metal                     3,699                                                 1,927
equipement goods
Fertilisers                         2,412
Paper, card-board                   2,586

The percentage of the traffic managed par the Bordeaux harbour with Western Africa was
of 30 per cent in 1954, at the apex of the empire’s development, and dwindled to 8 per cent
(with 814,000 tons) in 1982. Sure, some commodities constituted a durable trade, as cocoa
through Touton’s warehouses, or green coffee (with a maximum of 46,000 tons in 1975);
but always for regional outlets14.

Of course, the imperial function of the Bordeaux harbour was a reality – through its
trading houses –, but the strength of its insertion into the national division of production
and trade has always been somewhat a legend: it was fundamentally a mere regional port,
however on a large dimension, that of the whole South-Western France. Anyway, this
legend has been sustained by intense campaigns of economic ’’proudness’’ (throughout
economic magazines published locally; during the annual fair; in numerous speeches from
ministers or local authorities; owing to local businessmen’s association and to the
Chamber of commerce); a well-structured identity was thus built up in several decades and
still revived in the 1950s, to insist on the part played by “the great Bordeaux harbour”; even
of an official publishing still evoked in 1984 “Bordeaux, the metropolis of Africa” 15.
Conservatism thus prevailed in the 1960s, which hindered companies to redefine their
strategy and to redisplay their investments on French and European markets, whereas in
Black Africa they were overturned by large Paris wholesale trading house (CFAO, SCOA,

14 Jean Touton, Gérard Delalande, Philippe Doutreloux, Alain Huetz de Lemps & Jean-Roger Domecq, Le
négoce bordelais des denrées tropicales, Bordeaux, Collection Les Cahiers de la Mémoire de Bordeaux, n°6,
1996, p. 30.
15 Bordeaux-Le Verdon. Gazette du port, Revue du Port autonome de Bordeaux, n°69, February 1984, pp. 9

and 16.
Optorg) or shiphandling, transit and shipownership companies (SAGA, SCAC, etc.). The
Bordeaux harbour lost its function as a door to Northern or Black Africa and to Indochina,
which was proved by the closure of a huge majority of local trading house and banking
units involved abroad – and, through the 1970s, the Bordeaux harbour became more and
more excluded from regular national or “internationalised” flows linking “South” and
“North” by maritime ways., and only occasional ship stop there, at call, when local
branches of forwzarding agents (SDV Bolloré, mainly) manage to dispose of a sufficient
number of containers to be (un-)loaded.

3. The Bordeaux harbour alongside the rhythms of its regional functions

These remarks led to clues proving that the Bordeaux harbour was essentially sustained by
its regional functions. We shall not repeat here our development about sugar and oil
industries; but the same ’’business model’’ was followed by the flour plant (Grands
moulins de Bordeaux) which was built in the 1920s in Bordeaux, because its outlets were
found all over the South-West. Wood from northern Europe was used regionally (for
building); coal transported from Great Britain was sold and consumed regionnally –
through important local coal trading houses (Moulinié, etc.). Even the more recent flows of
oil petroleum could not succeed in spurring the growh of an industrial “complex” to be
compared with those of Le Havre and Marseille; like in Nantes or Sète, the imports were
used in local refineries; the first one was set up in 1929-1931 (Raffineries de pétrole de la
Gironde, with US investments) and the apex16 was reached in the 1960s, with two – Esso,
since 1959; Raffinerie des pétroles de la Gironde-Caltex, from the 1920s, then Elf – at the
Bec d’Ambès, downstream from Bordeaux, and one – Shell, from the 1920s – in Pauillac,
close to the Rothschild vineyard. Their function of which was to provide oil products to
South-Western France, which explains their limited weight in the national production (5
per cent in 1970). Even if some chemical plant was dreamed in the mid-1970s – and some
schemes were even drawn – and if even local politicians still argued at the end of the 1970s
in favour of some Rotterdam development at Le Verdon – where a terminal was reopened
in 1976 – or in Bec d’Ambès, the Bordeaux harbour never reached such levels of national or
European functions..., all the more because the four refineries even closed down in the
1980s, and the Bordeaux harbour became a mere importer of refined products transported
by tramping ship from Saint-Nazaire, Dunkerque, Anvers or Rotterdam...

As far as heavy industries were concerned, coal, steel or iron ingots or bars were imported
from other French (or British) steel factories to foster local plants transforming them into
mechanics or metal pieces, for regional users (tin canning, railway cars, tractors or
engines, pumping machines for wineries, windmills, etc.)17. The main outlets were found
indeed among shipyards which delivered ships mainly for defence purpose or for regional
shipowners – because the competition from the shipyards in Nantes-Saint-Nazaire, the
Basse-Seine or Dunkerque was harsh – leading the Forges & Chantiers de la Gironde18 to
fail twice, in the 1880s then in the 1920s, and the whole industry19 to close down at the
turn of the 1970s – except for luxury or tourism boats...

16 Christophe Briand, « Le développement d’une économie des hydrcarbures en Aquitaine au cours des trois
premiers Plans (1947-1962) », in Christophe Bouneau (ed.), Nouveaux regards sur l’histoire économique de
l’Aquitaine, Pessac, Publications de la Maison des sciences de l’homme d’Aquitaine, pp. 277-298.
17 See Jean Dumas, Les activités industrielles dans la Communauté urbaine de Bordeaux. Etude de

géographie économique et socio-politique, Bordeaux, 1980.
18 Roger & Christian Bernadat, Quand Bordeaux construisait des navires. Histoire de la construction navale

à Bordeaux, Camiac-et-Saint-Denis, Les Editions de l’Entre-deux-Mers, 2006.
19 See H. Bonin & Olivier Pétré-Grenouilleau, « Deindustrialisation and reindustrialisation : The case of

Bordeaux and Nantes , in Franco Amatori, Andrea Colli & Nicola Crepas (eds.), Deindustrialization &
Reindustrialization in 20th Century Europe, Milan, FrancoAngeli, 1999, pp. 233-262.
 Imports transit through the Bordeaux harbour
            in February 1939 (tons)
Coal                                    59,752
Petroleum                               56,383
Cereals                                  5,590
Sugar                                    4,609
Pyrites                                  4,193
Wool and hides                            2,115
Bananas                                   1,725
Coffee                                   1,505
Northern wood                            1,500
Cocoa                                       459
Rubber                                      441

This large range of regional functions was in fact condemned by the economic cycles, when
the local sugar, oil and metal-transformation industries were rubbed off in the 1960s-
1980s. The Bordeaux industrial platform dwindled drastically; thereafter no more link was
necessary between the life of the Bordeaux harbour and the development of the Gironde or
Aquitaine economy. Containerisation and the growing process of transferring to lorries the
main freight transport all over the French (and South-Western European) area at the
expense of railway and sea-tramping allowed forwarding agents for local activities to
prospect any French (or European) port to get lower fees and more convenient access to
worldwide sealines, which put aside Bordeaux for many operations (we already talk about
Ford’s exports). This explains that, despite important investments to modernise the
facilities at Bassens (on the right side of the Garonne, just near Bordeaux, now onwards the
core of the Bordeaux harbour), the competitiveness of the Bordeaux harbour was
historically no more at stake at the end of the 20th century: even alongside the regional
aspects of the productive system, it did not and will not play any key role as an advantage
edge for local economy.

This latter left only very few market segments to the Bordeaux harbour, that of the transit
of bulk agricultural products: wheat for the flour plant, soya cake for the plant specialised
in animal food, paper rolls for the printing unit of the local daily Sud Ouest, whilst
fertilisers, cement, and various bulk cargoes are still imported for the sake of local
consumption. From the 1960s, exports tackled more and more corn, of which Aquitaine
became a French specialist, exported to other European countries (Italy, for instance);
flour exported to Africa; other kinds of wheat than those imported for flour, for North or
Black Africa; and wine tankers transported low-range wines, to Africa or even North
America. Since the 1980s, conversely with Marseille, Le Havre and even Dunkerque, the
Bordeaux harbour has become more and more a port dedicated to local functions – which
explains its recent stagnation, as its yearly traffic fell from 14 million tons in the 1980s to
about eight million in the 1990s-2000s, almost at the level of La Rochelle-La Pallice, a
little north between Bordeaux and Nantes.


Still pending

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