Ports can no longer grow only with investment in equipment. In the future, with quays at full capacity, the region will have to have greenfield investments and developments.
The growth model of Latin American ports has to look for a new system so that the infrastructure grows at the same rate as the economies, especially with the region's boom in trade with the rest of the world. "Latin American ports have been growing by investing in equipment and expanding existing ports," Ricardo Sanchez told Latin Trade. "This model is obsolete. In the future, we will have to see greenfield investments and development or construction of new ports." Sanchez is director of the Infrastructure Services Unit, Natural Resources and Infrastructure Division of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (Eclac).
Sanchez said Latin American ports have experienced enormous development over the last 20 years, during which governments delivered the ports through concession contracts. However, these concessions were designed to administer, maintain and improve existing ports, and with the rapid growth of trade in the region, this model is reaching its limit.
Growth in port capacity has been outstanding in the last two decades. A report from Eclac said the number of containers that pass through Latin American ports has risen by 260 percent, from 12.7 million TEUs in 1997 to 45.6 million in 2012. The 2012 figure is equal to seven percent of global container movements.
At the same time, the capacity of the global maritime fleet has grown at an accelerated rate, according to a recent Eclac analysis. Capacity grew from around six million TEUs in 2000 to 20 million in 2013, an annual increase of nearly nine percent.
But it's not just capacity that has grown. The size of the ships that ply the world's trade routes has also increased, and this represents additional challenges for Latin America's port infrastructure. "In 2004, the largest ships could handle just 4,000 TEUs. Today, ships of 10,000 to 14,000 TEUs are arriving at ports," said Sanchez.
This growth in ship size joins another trend peculiar to Latin America, and that is that ships are reducing the number of calls at the ports in order to increase speed and reduce transportation costs. Sanchez said that previously the ships made up to 10 calls on the west coast of Latin America, whereas today it is more often just five calls.
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