The president of the National Ports Administration (ANP), Juan Curbelo, indicated that Montevideo has an unbeatable geographical location to become a regional hub. He maintained that the installation of the specialized terminals of UPM, Terminal Cuenca del Plata and Obrinel will organize and make the port of Montevideo more efficient. In dialogue with The Observer, said that the works that Argentina announces for the Río de la Plata, such as the dredging of the Magdalena channel, do not scare him. “We must try to be more efficient, have a safe port, make intelligent use of the infrastructure. If all this is done, I am not afraid of any port development or any navigation route that they want to do in the Río de la Plata”, he stated. Below is a summary of the interview that Curbelo had with The Observer.
As president of the National Administration of Ports (ANP), you will have received criticism about the efficiency of the port of Montevideo. Do you understand that there are inefficiencies or that something needs to be improved?
The priority is the development of the different ports of the country and, in particular, that of Montevideo, which has undergone an important change in recent years in terms of improving infrastructure. It reached the depth of 13 meters. That makes the competitiveness. Grain ships have already come out with 12.3, 12.5 meters. That meant that Obrinel (specialized grain terminal) has improved its capacity, that it came out with a greater load. It is a direct benefit for exporters. All measures go in that direction. That is why the works that are being developed and that are already in the completion stage are important. One of them was the inauguration of the UPM pulp mill. Another, the Obrinel grain terminal. In the coming weeks, a new 14-meter-deep quay will be inaugurated, which will allow an improvement. It will be able to receive grains from the region, basically from Argentina, to be completed in the port of Montevideo. The new dock means an improvement in infrastructure but also a greater possibility of offering new businesses in the region. There is the Capurro fishing port project, which will be completed in the first half of 2023. It is a US$100 million project. It will allow the entire fishing industry, particularly the foreign one, to operate in better conditions than today. Also, the specialized container terminal (Terminal Cuenca del Plata) will begin in April of next year and will mean a superlative change in the positioning of the port of Montevideo in the Río de la Plata and the region.
And with all this, do you think that a more efficient port will be achieved?
And ordered. Port planning is going to lead to the intelligent use of infrastructure and a more competitive and efficient port, which, after all, is the objective of the port authority: for the port to be a link in the logistics chain and foreign trade. We are an instrument, not an end in itself. Almost 90% of Paraguay’s container movement has been recaptured, which basically passes through Montevideo.
Photo: Leonardo Carreno.
President of the PNA
In recent times, some drug shipments were discovered. The ANP is not responsible for the control of the merchandise, it is not responsible for verification, that is done by Customs. But, as a regulator, could the ANP apply more controls on containers?
We do not take the leg out of the loop. We work in coordination with the National Customs Directorate and the National Naval Prefecture. It is a complex issue, it happens in the ports of the world. But obviously the ANP has to improve the infrastructure to have more control over the perimeter. It is our task and responsibility. With all the works being done at the same time, control on the perimeter has been diminished. Work is being done so that, once the works are completed, a more controlled port perimeter can be restored. Many times, it happens that there are drug shipments that come in transit. Actually, they have to be controlled in the country of origin. It is very difficult for a port to control merchandise in transit. It is done if there is any notification or alert. Customs is working with the Ministry of Economy in the acquisition of scanners. Necessary. And the ANP, as a port authority, has to improve the security conditions in the perimeter, in the port accesses.
How do you take it when an Argentine official appears from time to time talking about port sovereignty and the need to remove cargo from the port of Montevideo?
We have to do our job, have the best ports possible. Many times I understand that it is not possible to understand the concept of complementarity, more than that of dispute. That doesn’t mean you don’t want cargo coming out of your ports. There is a regional port system and, if it works, all the ports will have the capacity to improve. Therefore, the works that are being announced do not scare me, the improvements that are intended to be made in the different ports of the region. On the contrary. I think that if all the ports improve, it will be a more attractive scenario for larger ships to come to the region. There is not a shipping company that comes to a single port. I continue to believe in port complementarity. I believe and work to improve what corresponds to us: the port of Montevideo and the ports of Uruguay. The authorities of the brother countries have all the legitimacy to do what they want. We have an unbeatable geographical location. From this, we must continue working on definitions, such as specialized areas, on the intelligent use of port infrastructure, continue deepening the port, support companies and workers, be more efficient, have a safe port, increase the hinterland (zone of influence) of the port of Montevideo. If we do all that, I am not afraid of any port development or any navigation route that they want to do in the Río de la Plata.
At what stage is the procedure before the Administrative Commission of the Río de la Plata (CARP) to deepen the port of Montevideo to 14 meters?
The ANP has already presented the executive project. The environment is missing. A call was made last year and it was declared deserted. Another process was carried out and now it has been awarded to a company that is in the final process. Searches must be carried out, which are essential so that, once the results are obtained, they can be submitted for environmental authorization. With that, you have to start the process before the CARP.
How long can CARP authorization take?
How long the negotiations with Argentina take. We are optimistic that it can be achieved quickly.
Photo: Leonardo Carreno.
Is there an estimate of how much activity growth will be when the three specialized terminals operate at full capacity?
It will depend on the works of the container terminal and how we work in these years. Public docks are always going to have activity. It must be reaffirmed: there is no monopoly, what there is is a priority for the docking of ships. When that priority is not used, the public docks will be used. We believe that if work continues in this way, there will be work for all port operators. We aspire to double the load. This year, if all goes well, the milestone of one million TEUs (20-foot container) will be reached. After 30 years of the port law, I believe that this objective will be achieved. This is the first marker of sustainable growth over time with the aim of making Montevideo the hub port of the region. For that, we don’t have to think only about our load. You have to think about what can be captured from Paraguay, Bolivia, the south of Argentina, from some ports that may be collapsed in Brazil. There is a lot to grow. And I’m talking about the entire port community.
Are merchandise transits for the ANP profitable in billing?
Transit is very important. If we look at last year’s revenue numbers, which were record highs and this year we are headed for the same thing to happen, in reality the ANP’s higher revenues are due to imports. They are the ones that are recorded the most. Transits are important because that’s where you get volume. It should not be seen as an economic income. That volume is what allows shipping companies to come, with larger ships. Beyond the direct income generated by transits to the ANP, they are absolutely fundamental and are a priority. The volume is generated with the extra load Uruguay, with ours an important one is not reached.
He had to testify in the Prosecutor’s Office for the complaint that the Broad Front made against the contract between the government and Katoen Natie for the extension of the Cuenca del Plata Terminal concession. Do you understand that throughout the internal process in the ANP, in the recommendation of the project to the Executive Power, you could have made some administrative error as president?
I am very calm with what was done. I think it has been an excellent agreement for Uruguay. It is now being seen with an improvement in numbers, with a positive ordering of the port of Montevideo. But, above all, it is going to be seen in the future, when the work gets going and the specialized terminal is one of the main engines of port growth. This agreement between Uruguay and Katoen Natie will generate a new transformation in port development. I am very calm with what was done. In the other, the judicial, I have maintained, until now, respect for what is being carried out and I will continue in that line. Waiting, with great calm, what is resolved in Justice in these months.
But he did not ask about the agreement, he consulted him about the administrative procedure.
I understand that everything was done according to law. A great agreement was made that will have a very positive impact on the development of port activity in Uruguay.