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Brazil’s ports ’50 years behind the times’, claims new report

Posted on March 18, 2024

Brazil’s Lula administration this month embarked on a privatisation drive to see the nation’s port terminals in private hands – a move coinciding with a damning report on the state of its shipping sector.

A working group of Hidrovias do Brasil, Port of Açu and Wilson Sons has launched a Manifesto for Innovation in the Maritime and Port Sector, which points out shortcomings in Brazil’s port network which serve as a drain on international trade.

Of particular note are long wait times for docking, of five days or more, compared with the US average of two days; and high customs clearance times and costs, of $862 and 49 hours versus the $136 and 12.7-hour average across OECD countries.

Comparative analyses of port processes, such as vessel traffic systems and automation, found that Brazil’s ports had suffered more than half a century of delay, in some cases, due to “not enough… incentives to take risks”, as well as a fear of “legal consequences or audits that assess compliance with rules and regulations”.

The report concludes: “The relative national delay in implementing major innovations already established in the maritime and port industry is reflected in higher logistical and operational costs, longer transit times, lower operational safety and direct impact on greenhouse gas emissions.”

Characteristic of this maritime sclerosis is the back-and-forth discussion on the port of Santos, responsible for 30% of Brazil’s foreign trade. The dispute has been going on for years, becoming a focus for previous President Jair Bolsonaro as he struggled to push privatisation through in 2022 and 2023.

Minister Bruno Dantas, rapporteur for Brazil’s Federal Court of Audits, said at the end of 2022 that privatisation of smaller ports should be considered first, lest the port’s new operator develop a stranglehold, and demanded “robust regulation to prevent the practice of vertical integration from turning into market concentration and abusive practices that harm free competition and national interests”.

Following the inauguration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (known as Lula), privatisation was called off again in January. But now it appears to be back on.

This month, concessions for four terminals, including one box facility in Santos, will be up for auction. And a 25-year lease, worth BRL2.9bn ($583m), is planned for the container port of Itajai this year.

Announcing the report, Mariana Yoshioka, director of innovation and technology at Hidrovias do Brasil, said: “With an extensive coastline, consolidated infrastructure and an ecosystem that is rich in cutting-edge technologies, we have the unique chance to transform challenges into opportunities.

“By working together, we can leverage innovation and boost the country’s economic and social development.”


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