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Latin America - over or under capacity?

The forthcoming TOC Americas provides an opportunity for the industry to asses which ports are winning and where the real opportunities are in Latin America.

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A strong line up of speakers for this years TOC Americas conference in Panama highlights the importance of the high stakes battle for container terminals in Latin America. The region is well known for offering large number of potential terminal developments, and a heightened risk some of these will turn out to be white elephants.


Governments in Latin America want to use port investment to drive economic growth. The CAF, the development bank of Latin America, predicts that the region will need to bridge a 113 million TEU gap between demand and container handling capacity by 2040. This seems and extraordinarily high number, and speakers in the regional business, trade and container outlook sessions should shed light on whether it is realistic.


Market forecasts and terminal concession RFPs in the Latin American market draw on this type of study to make the case for investment in new terminals, but the reality on the ground is very different. At a memorable session at TOC Americas in 2016 a panel of terminal operators described how an increasing number of terminals were competing for the same, slow growing cargo base. The region has more than its share of white elephants, several of which were highlighted. In fact TOC Americas shone a light on some terminals lying completely empty.


This years port infrastructure and investment sessions are expected to be just as revealing. TOC Americas has lined up terminal operators and investors including Mogens Wolf-Larsen, CEO – Latin America for APM Terminals, Domingo Chinea, President at Puerto de Santa Marta, Colombia, Alberto Borquez, Port Projects Manager for SAAM, Chile, Charles Baker, Director General of Cuba’s TC Mariel and Andres Padilla, COO at Terminal Portuario de Manta, Ecuador, alongside industry consultants Duaga and WSP.


The sessions will hopefully shed some light who are the winners and losers in the market today, and on some key questions such as whether terminal automation has delivered an advantage for APM Terminals at Lazaro Cardenas that might be replicated elsewhere in Latin America? And whether by going into Cuba in 2011 PSA International got in on the ground floor in an emerging market or has been left with a white elephant.


The conference also presents an opportunity to hear from the new Panama Colon Container Port (PCCP), which has recently confirmed its participation as a sponsor, exhibitor and speaker. A subsidiary of Chinese company Shanghai Gorgeous, PCCP is investing US$1.1bn in a new container terminal near the Caribbean entrance to the Panama Canal. Phase I will have a massive 2.5m TEU capacity in its first phase. History suggests that terminals built, equipped and controlled by Chinese companies can come on stream and shake up an existing market quickly.


TOC Americas is being held in Panama, November 13-15 2018. Full details can be found here.

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