Port of Santos Headed for Privatization

Sugar terminal at Port of Santos (File image courtesy Sabino Freitas Correa)

Published May 7, 2020 6:18 PM by The Maritime Executive

The busy Port of Santos is headed towards privatization, and the administration of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has selected the policy bank BNDES to develop options for the process. 

Santos is the largest port in South America, and it handles nearly 30 percent of Brazil's cargo - notably its giant agricultural commodity export volume, including soybeans and sugar. It sees about 4,800 ship calls a year at about 50 terminals. 

Under the agreement, announced Wednesday by the Santos Port Authority and Brazil's Ministry of Infrastructure, BNDES will develop several models for privatizing the operations of Port of Santos and the nearby Port of São Sebastião. The studies are due in early 2021 and the auction is scheduled for 2022. 

The Bolsonaro administration has also launched an auction process to privatize two publicly-owned liquid bulk terminals at Santos, with the transition scheduled for 2021.

Through privatization, the administration hopes to attract new investment to the country's ports sector and to signal that Brazil is open for business - even in the coronavirus era. "The privatization of the Port of Santos, due to its importance in our trade balance, will be a milestone for the sector and for the recovery of the economy," said BNDES president Gustavo Montezano.

The port privatization measures will proceed under the management of a new Port of Santos CEO, Fernando Biral, who was confirmed by the Ministry of Infrastructure last week. Outgoing CEO Casemiro Tercio Carvalho announced his resignation in late April. 

The port has kept its operations running despite the pandemic thanks to an agreement between its operators' association and its unions Basic screening measures are in effect for individuals entering terminals, and the port's stakeholders have negotiated new safety guidelines for activity inside of the gates. As at other seaports around the world, merchant ships have to declare any illness on board before arrival.