Brazil's Logistics Improve- 2

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By Alastair Stewart
DTN South America Correspondent

PARANAGUA, Brazil (DTN) -- Looking across the newly reformed quay on Paranagua ports grain export corridor, all looks tranquil.

One Panamanian vessel loads soymeal in the foreground, while a Chinese vessel unloads fertilizer more than 160 feet behind.

But the calm belies the excellent performance of Brazil's No. 2 grain port this year.

"Paranagua has really improved. It is much more efficient," said Sergio Mendes, executive secretary at the Brazilian Cereal Exporters Association (ANEC).

The port, situated on the coast of the traditional southern grain heartland state of Parana, exported 5 million metric tons (mmt) of soybeans in the first four months of the 2015/16 season, up 38% on the year before. That's part of a wider improvement in Brazilian export efficiency this year that has facilitated a 36% jump in bean exports by the world's No. 2 producer this year.

Over the past two decades, Paranagua became emblematic of many of the shortcomings of Brazil's grain infrastructure.

A lack of investment and lax public administration meant that it lost its post as Brazil's leading grain port and the images of truck lines trailing back up to 60 miles from port highlighted Brazil's inability to efficiently export its soy crop.

For the last two years, the port administration has worked at correcting the most glaring inefficiencies.

"We sat down and talked to our clients about changes we needed to make immediately ... We made improvements and now we are seeing results," said Luiz Henrique Dividino, president of the Paranagua port administration.

There were big structural changes. The port replaced four of the six shiploaders along the public export corridor, updating equipment in use since the 1970s. A number of obsolete cranes were changed out and the quayside rebuilt to withstand heavy equipment.

But Dividino highlighted the fine-tuning of the system as just as important, such as making the online truck delivery programming system work properly.

"Before we had trucks waiting 36 hours to unload. Now that can be just two hours,"

These types of efficiency savings are felt up and down the logistics chain, he noted.

Of course, dry weather in February, March and April also helped volumes substantially.

PLANS FOR THE FUTURE

According to Dividino, most of the main efficiency gains have now been captured and significant expansion at the port depends on new investments.

Under the 2013 federal port law, that investment must come from the private sector through tenders and lease agreements.

However, the political and economic crisis currently stalking Brazil is stymieing the process and scaring off potential investors. As such, the auction of such concessions has stalled.

For example, six expansion projects at Paranagua, including four new grain terminals, are due to be put out to tender in August, but that is now likely to be delayed. This follows the recent opening of impeachment proceedings against suspended President Dilma Rousseff and the installation of an interim government and the disruption that the change has created.

Along the export corridor, space is at a premium and so the port has plans to create T and F piers that jut out from the quay. Beyond that, the only option is to implant new terminals outside the confines of the traditional port, along the Paranagua bay.

The idea is to auction off new areas on separate sites such as Pontal or Embocui, adjacent to the existing port.

"We are looking to stimulate private investment in this portfolio of new projects," said Dividino, who said these greenfield projects are more attractive to investors than terminals within the port's bursting confines.

NORTHERN PORTS

While much of the talk about Brazilian logistics focuses on the new grain export corridors through the north, the fact is that the overwhelming majority of this year's extra soy exports have shipped through the southern ports of Santos, Paranagua and Rio Grande.

Indeed, about 6.0 mmt of the 8.1 mmt in extra soybean exports in the February-through-May period went through the south.

Given these numbers and the fact that output continues to expand in the south and the parts of the center-west that will continue to be served by southern ports even when the northern export corridors are complete, Dividino argued that the government should be focusing on expanding southern ports first.

"We are investing in 50 mmt of static capacity (at grain port terminals in the north) for cargos that don't yet exist," he said.

A key part of the new interim government's push to stimulate infrastructure investment was to auction tenders for new grain, fertilizer and iron ore terminals in the northern state of Para. However, a lack of interest and problems with the tenders forced them to delay.

The focus should be on expanding where there is immediate demand. It's a strategic error, said Dividino, who noted that Paranagua has an advantage in that it is the biggest fertilizer importing port and therefore can guarantee haulage firms a cargo back to the interior whereas northern destinations normally can't.

Brazilian grain-planted area could grow by as much as 5 million acres in 2016-17, with many of those acres in southern port catchment areas.

Alastair Stewart can be reached at astewartbrazil@gmail.com

(ES/SK)