Argentina’s economy and international trade volumes have disappointed economists and analysts for a decade, but current economic and related conditions indicate that the South American country — once the sixth-richest country in the world, but now barely in the top 60 — is headed for a sustained period of economic and trade growth.
For shippers and forwarders, the upshot is this: a period of sustained, increasing aggregate demand in the country, along with a government that is friendlier to business and willing to improve transport infrastructure that is critical for container trade.
Patricio Campbell, the head of ONE Argentina, who for years has been CEO of Multimar, the agency for NYK Line in Argentina, is bullish on Argentina. (Campbell also heads the Centro Navegacion de Argentina, which has represented Argentina’s maritime transport users since 1900.)
ONE — formed by the merger of "K" Line, NYK Line, and MOL — launched in early April. ONE Argentina offers two services connecting to Asia, and one connecting to Central America, the US Gulf, and Mexico.
“We have had a torrid time in Argentina for more than a decade but we feel now we have turned the tide and are in for a sustained period of an improving economy and trading situation,” Campbell told JOC.com.
The Port of Buenos Aires handled 1.5 million TEU in 2017 — roughly the same as 10 years ago. The port handles more than 95 percent of the nation’s container shipping cargo.
Paula Diosquez-Rice of IHS Markit forecasts in the March 2018 Argentina Economic Outlook that Argentina’s economy will expand 3.5 percent in 2018, followed by growth rates of 3.2 percent, 2.9 percent, and 2.8 percent through 2021. The economy grew 2.9 percent in 2017.
Further, according to IHS Markit's Global Trade Atlas, 2017 international trade totaled $250.7 billion, up from $227.6 billion in 2016 — the first substantial increase since 2011. However, that stronger trade performance did not prevent a trade deficit, which was $13.2 billion in 2017. Imports totaled $133.8 billion; exports totaled $120.6 billion.
“The export sector will continue to face challenges and uncertainties on the external side. However, we expect sales abroad to increase in 2018,” the Argentina Economic Outlook said. “Argentina’s economic activity is expected to expand, driven by private-sector consumption, investment, and — although to a lesser extent — by the export sector.”
ONE CEO Nixon also bullish on Argentina
Economic forecast groups are not the only parties that are bullish on Argentina’s economy and international trade condition; key executives and decision makers are as well. Jeremy Nixon, CEO of ONE, and Peter Duifhuizen, ONE regional head for Latin America, were upbeat about Argentina and the rest of east coast South America (ECSA), when interviewed by JOC.com at the recent Intermodal South America conference in São Paulo.
Refrigerated trades, especially beef, have been strong out of Argentina and the rest of ECSA and look like they will gain more momentum in the year ahead, said Duifhuizen, a former Nedlloyd, P&O Nedlloyd, Maersk Line, and MOL executive with extensive experience in South America.
Concerning containers, Multimar has been the Argentina shipping agent and partner for NYK Line for decades, with offices in Paraguay and Uruguay, as well as Buenos Aires. Campbell said that the company, which he founded 23 years ago, will keep its identity for bulk shipping, reefer vessels (mostly fruit), and car carrying, even after the merger of the three Japan lines.
“Customer reaction has been very positive and I think it is very important that ONE is starting up at a very good time for Argentina," Campbell said. “We are seeing new businesses starting up in our region; many are in agriculture, where we have been traditionally strong, but also in new technologies, such as producing lithium batteries for electric cars,” Campbell said.
Argentina is responsible for 11 percent of world production of lithium, behind sector leader Chile, with 33 percent. (The United States produces just 2.6 percent.) Moreover, its reserves of salt — a raw material of lithium batteries — are enormous: Argentina possesses 23 percent of known world reserves, compared with 36 percent in Chile, 26 percent in China, and 6.5 percent in the United States.
“Argentina has become a huge potential market for prospective international investors yet again, not just with regard to lithium mining and batteries,” Campbell said. “And this is evidenced by Canada, Australia, and Japan all re-opening commercial offices in Argentina after a 10-year absence.”
Campbell also noted “a good relationship” with the United States again, which is creating more opportunities and, if all goes well, will lead to a new free trade agreement between the European Union and Mercosur, the economic trading bloc consisting of Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil, and Argentina. (Venezuela also is a member of Mercosur, but is currently suspended from the bloc.)
But the continued politicization of the port authority, Administracion General de Puertos, and the lack of a long-term plan for the Port of Buenos Aires and Exolgan Terminal at the Dock Sul facility must be addressed soon, decision makers generally agree, if Argentina hopes to increase its international trade volumes in a sustained way.
Contact Rob Ward at email@example.com.