By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Ports in Brazil are expecting to handle a billion tons of cargo for the first time in 2012, according to estimates by ANTAQ, Brazil’s National Agency for Waterway Transportation. If achieved, the figure will be 12.3 percent more than in 2011, with Rio de Janeiro State set to take the top spot from neighboring Espírito Santo.
In 2010, Brazil’s ports handled 833.9 million tons of goods: 489.6 million tons of which was exported goods, 126.8 tons – imported, with the rest transported domestically.
New terminals have been announced in recent months, including by Eike Batista’s investment groups at ports such as Açu “superport” in the north of Rio State.
The record levels of freight are being attributed to new investments in port infrastructure in the past six years – both from private enterprises and state sources – including major dredging projects which have readied a number of sites on the Brazilian coastline to deal with much higher levels of cargo, with space for bigger vessels.
Brazil’s Minister for Ports, José Leônidas Cristino, told O Globo newspaper that a new tracking system would mean major improvements to efficiency at the ports:
“We are investing more than R$553 million (US$296 million) in paperless intelligent systems […] which will allow ships and trucks to be tracked so that the loads arrive at the right time and reduce terminal congestion,” says the minister, adding that Brazil could now “increase capacity without the need for further work.”
David Lorimer, director at shipping analysts Datamar explained the private sector have done a lot to improve capacity as well. “There have been tremendous gains in operational efficiency in Brazil’s private terminals as operators have invested heavily in cargo handling equipment and shipowners in larger, more efficient vessels.”
This investment in the ports means that Brazil should export some 530 million tons of cargo in 2012, according to Datamar, who point out that China was Brazil’s main export destination in value terms, with exports to China representing 31 percent and the U.S. second at seven percent in 2011.
Yet despite improvements at the ports, a disproportionate amount of cargo is still transported by road. To counter this, the government is saying it wants the waterways to play a bigger role in cargo transportation, with a target of increasing the current fourteen percent of national freight carried by Brazil’s waterways, to some thirty percent by 2025.
Geography has also impeded efforts to transport more cargo by sea: “If industrialized São Paulo and Curitiba were coastal cities we’d be seeing much more middle distance domestic cargo carried by sea and far less on the BR-101 and Dutra,” David Lorimer explains.
The increase in the number of “super ports” in Brazil has drawn attention from environmental groups, who say that the ports are being given the go-ahead with little discussion beforehand, and that existing ports should be developed before building on a new site – rather than on ecologically-sensitive sites, such as those near coral reefs.