Key infrastructure improvements to leave the nation shipshape

BOASTING A population of 37 million and covering an area approximately the size of the United States west of the Mississippi, Argentina has had to engage in an ongoing balancing act with public funds to maintain the nation's infrastructure at current levels.

And according to the former Infrastructure and Housing Minister, Nicolás Gallo, the time has come to charge ahead with a nationwide plan to tear down all existing barriers to economic development. (The portfolio of Infrastructure and Housing is now included in the Ministry of Economy under the supervision of Miguel Bein.) "Our Federal Infrastructure Plan has identified 2,500 projects that are underway in every province of the Republic of Argentina. These have been listed in order of quality, objectives and priorities for the individual provinces as well as for the nation," Mr. Gallo explains.

He also notes that the ambitious plan has a five-year deadline for completion and will be financed by both domestic and foreign investors via the low-risk British model of service leasing. High on the list of priorities is the completion of improvements made to an extensive interconnected road network that will crisscross the nation. "When this public works project is finished, the country will be integrated with the rest of the Mercosur nations and South America. The project will provide exceptional propulsion to the economy," Mr. Gallo predicts. Adequate shipping facilities are another important factor for Argentine products heading to the U.S., European and Latin American markets.

A large proportion of the infrastructure projects are earmarked for improvements to existing ports and for the construction of new ones, says Secretary of Transport Jorge Horacio Kogan. "Our plans mostly concern aid projects for southern ports. Much of the investment there is geared towards promoting tourism, as we expect a huge in- crease in cruise ship traffic," Mr. Kogan says. At the same time, he adds, "work is underway to develop an important network of ports from La Plata, just south of the capital, to Zarate and Campana. Another series of ports will run between San Martin and Arroyo Seco in the province of Santa Fe."

Deregulation and privatization has been a boon to the Port of Buenos Aires, Latin America's largest in terms of container movement. "As a result of terminal concessions in the Puerto Nuevo area, traffic growth at the Port of Buenos Aires has been steady since the beginning of the privatization process, and reached its peak in 1998 by handling some 824,000 TEUs [units of 20-foot containers]," says the port's president, Ricardo H. del Valle. He points out that US$200 million in private investment for new equipment and technology was a key factor in the port's improved performance. Buenos Aires' metropolitan port area is comprised of the Port of Buenos Aires and the port of Dock Sud, which together handle 96% of the country's container traffic and 40% of the nation's foreign trade.

"More than 60 companies located in the area operate some 70 shipments weekly to destinations around the world," Mr. del Valle notes. Underpinning the Port of Buenos Aires' importance to the regional economy are two main factors: the inter-coastal water-ways leading into the country's interior and to neighboring Mercosur partners Uruguay and Paraguay, and access to the nation's railway system meaning that containers can be transported to the Chilean coast for shipment via the Pacific Ocean. And the port's role in the region continues to grow. Over the past three years the Buenos Aires metropolitan port areas have grown at an average rate of 21.3%, a growth rate that ranks third worldwide and first in all of South, Central and North America.