Latin America’s ports post mixed results for 2023


In 2023, Latin American ports experienced varied throughput performances, with eight ports gaining traffic while seven saw declines, largely influenced by economic conditions and operational factors.

Ports in Latin America posted mixed performances in their throughputs in 2023 with as many ports gaining traffic (eight) as those suffering falls (seven ports – see Table below). Primarily, this reflected the state of economic and trading activity in the port’s home country, although specific operational, supply chain management, carriers’ service strategies and investment activity did have an impact on some results.

In 2023, the ports registering the strongest growth rates included Callao (+9.8%) in Peru, Paranagua (+7.9%) in Brazil, Balboa (+6.1%) in Panama and Cartagena in Colombia.

In Callao, throughput jumped by 9.8% in 2023 to over 2.7M TEU. Both DP World, which operates South Port, and APM Terminal, which manages North Port, have invested heavily in new equipment and terminal systems, giving the port additional handling capacity and raising its operating efficiency considerably.

In 2023, the port’s transhipment business increased strongly and it is now estimated to account for between 25% and 30% of Callao’s total box traffic.

In Paranagua, the port’s Paranagua Container Terminal (PCT) achieved another record performance with over 1.25M TEU processed. In particular, the export of perishable products, especially of frozen chicken, increased strongly, and it is a trend that is expected to continue.

“The transportation and storage of refrigerated containers are among the most prominent segments within our terminal, prompting us to invest in expanding the number of reefer yard outlets from 3,624 to 5,268 units,” said Giovanni Guidolim, manager of Commercial, Logistics, and Customer Services at TCP. “This investment will position TCP as the largest refrigerated container yard in South America.”

Last year TCP, which is owned by China Merchants Port Holdings Company, invested BRL370M in buying new equipment, including 11 RTGs and 10 terminal tractors, and improving its facility.

This year at least seven additional terminal tractors will be phased into its operations. The Pacific coast port of Balboa was the only port in Panama of the three listed to post a rise in its box traffic in 2023. Principally, this was because the port adapted quickly and effectively to the ongoing drought crisis in the country and the draught restriction imposed by the Panama Canal Authority in the waterway.

Large numbers of containers were discharged from vessels on Asia/US east coast routings to the Panama Canal Railway and trucks for pick-up on the Atlantic side of Panama.

The port’s west coast transhipment and local business was largely unaffected by the Panama Canal restrictions and in each of the last five months of 2023, Balboa posted double-digit (between 10% and 16%) rises in its throughput compared with the corresponding months of 2022.

Those ports that lost the most traffic in 2023 included Buenaventura in Colombia, Navegantes-Itajai in Brazil – both declining by about 15% on the previous year – and San Antonio in Chile.

The port of Buenaventura continued to lose traffic in 2024 as the violence associated with drug trafficking gangs continued. Beneficial cargo owners, ocean carriers and logistics service providers review their operations continually and more often than not other ports in Colombia are being selected to handle cargo that from a hinterland perspective would use the port.

Recent years have also seen a variety of industrial disputes that have also undermined some confidence in the port.

The decline in box traffic at the Navegantes-Itajai port complex was entirely attributable to the near closure of container handling activities at Itajai in 2023. This stemmed from the government’s failure to secure a new concessionaire for the container terminal. While the incumbent, APM Terminals, agreed a temporary contract at the end of 2022, it refused to extend this on its expiry in June 2023 and since that time no traffic has been handled at the facility.

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