Bolivian River Port Offers Alternative Route to Sea
On October 30, the Bolivian government awarded international classification to Central Aguirre, Gravetal and Jennefer - three river ports on the Paraguay-Paraná waterway that connects the landlocked nation of Bolivia with Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and the Atlantic Ocean.
Bolivia, South America’s poorest country in terms of GDP per capita, lost its coastline to Chile after the 19th-century War of the Pacific.
The port reclassifications come just one month after the International Court of Justice ruled that “…the Republic of Chile did not undertake a legal obligation to negotiate sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean for the Plurinational State of Bolivia.”
According to managers of the ports – all members of UNCTAD’s TrainForTrade Port Management Programme – the waterway offers an alternative route to the sea.
“The hope, the opportunities that the Paraguay-Paraná waterway offers business owners and Bolivia’s economy are considerable,” said Bismark Rosales, manager of Port Jennefer. He says more businesses can save time and money floating goods along the waterway instead of hauling them across the Andean Mountains that stand between Bolivia and Chile’s ports on the Pacific. Use of the waterway is expected to reduce freight costs by around 20 percent and freight time by up to 30 percent.
The rugged terrain has meant that when exporting or importing goods via the Pacific Ocean, the transit costs for the Chilean-Bolivian leg of the journey are often the most expensive part of the voyage. The roads leading to Arica Port near the Chilean-Peruvian border, for example, wind up and down the Andean Range climbing from 300 to over 5,000 meters above sea-level.
According to the Chamber of Industry, Commerce, Services, and Tourism of Santa Cruz, the country’s largest city, Bolivian businesses import 110,000 containers through the Chilean port of Arica each year. Some of these containers can now be brought up the Paraguay-Paraná waterway thanks to the river ports’ new international classification.
Port Jennefer, located on the Tamengo Canal, currently moves about 500,000 tons of cargo – mainly soybean flour and oil. The port’s managers expect this figure to quickly double. Rosales credits UNCTAD with preparing the port for the more prominent role it will now play in Bolivia’s economic development, and for helping to turn the option of the waterway into a reality. He also says that the training courses have improved his knowledge of port management and are helping his team build the skills they need to operate Jennefer as an international port.
The TrainForTrade Port Management Programme has worked with more than 200 ports in 34 countries. More than 3,000 officials have graduated from the program since it started in 1996. In the Latin American and Caribbean region, the program is active in Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Peru – in addition to Bolivia.
TrainForTrade is supported by the ports of Nantes and Marseille in France, Dublin and Cork in Ireland, Belfast in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Gijon and Valencia in Spain. It also receives funding from Irish Aid, Ireland's official agency for international development.