Brazil Ports Starved of Investment and Buried in Red Tape

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December 13, 2012

Entrepreneurs Jorge Gerdau Johannpeter, left, and Eike Batista speak to each other during a ceremony for the announcement of a port investment program at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia December 6, 2012. Brazil’s government launched a $26 billion (54.2 billion reais) port investment program on Thursday to reduce the high costs and notorious delays in shipping goods in and out of the major commodities exporter. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

By Anthony Boadle

BRASILIA – Brazil’s ports are among the slowest and most costly in the world due to poor infrastructure, high taxes, excessive red-tape and deficient road and rail access, the country’s private transport sector said in a report.

Lack of investment has resulted in inefficient ports where it costs $200 on average to load or unload a single container, compared to $110 in European ports such as Rotterdam, Hamburg and Antwerp, or $75 in Asian ports, the report issued on Wednesday by the National Transport Confederation (CNT) said.

Poor dredging, narrow channels and small docks hinder entry of mega carriers that transport up to 18,000 containers, twice the capacity of the largest ship that can enter a Brazilian port, said the report, which was based on a survey of shipping agents.

The report came out just days after President Dilma Rousseff announced a $26 billion plan to modernize Brazil’s clogged ports whose high costs and notorious delays are eroding its competitive edge as a major commodities exporter.

The plan is part of Rousseff’s drive to upgrade Brazil’s creaking infrastructure to reduce costs to raise productivity and restore solid growth to a once-booming economy.

“After 20 years of neglect, this investment is welcome and shows that the government is concerned about the situation of the ports,” said CNT vice president Meton Soares.

But Soares doubted that the government could meet its target to invest $31 billion over the next three years, which is ten times the investment in public ports over the last decade.

The investment comes too late to ease looming congestion early next year when a record soy harvest, that is expected to push Brazil ahead of the United States as the world’s No. 1 soy producer, starts to reach crammed ports and worsen delays.

The government is planning to route more soy to ports in northern Brazil to reduce the pressure on Paranagua, Latin America’s biggest grains port, and has expanded facilities at some northern ports such as Itaqui, in Maranhao state.

“Let’s see if this helps cover the expanded harvest, which is going to be gigantic. We are worried,” said Andre Zanin, executive director of the National Shipping Agents Federation.

Grains sector representatives and even agriculture officials say it is too late to avoid the chaos expected when the record soy harvest funnels through the ports still trying to pump out the last of a bumper 2012 corn crop.

“For the next harvest we think there will be an increase in the volume produced but we will still have the same transport choices. There won’t be any change by then,” said Aprosoja’s executive coordinator, Edeon Vaz Ferreira.

The CNT report cited a survey by the World Economic Forum that ranked Brazil 108th among 112 countries in terms of the quality of its port infrastructure, below less developed nations such as Mozambique, Guyana and Nicaragua.

Bureaucracy remains a persistent problem that compounds the delays at Brazilian ports, where six different federal agencies require paperwork on every shipment, the agents complained.

A paperless system introduced last year to reduce red tape and speed up port procedures only made matters worse. Zanin, who helped design the new system, said it added four hours more of paperwork because authorities continue to demand stamped and notarized documents instead of moving into the digital age. (Additional reporting by Peter Murphy; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)

© 2012 Thomson Reuters.

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