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Colombian coffee exporters finance country's first all-container port.

Colombian coffee exporters finance country's first all-container port

The shipping line Flote Mercante Grancolombiana (FMG) has begun constructing Colombia's first all-container shipping terminal at the Caribbean port city of Cartagena. The $55 million complex is being financed almost entirely by the Federacion Nacional de Cafeteros, the nation's most influential coffee lobby and 95 percent owner of FMG (the remaining 5% is owned by the government of Ecuador).

Said Andres Lloreda, the organization's public-affairs director: "Cartagena now handles between 18 and 21 percent of Colombia's coffee exports. With this terminal, Cartagena's capacity will increase tremendously." Currently, said Lloreda, the Pacific port of Buena-ventura handles 58 percent of the nation's coffee exports, which in April alone totaled 1.506 million 60 kg sacks, an all-time record.

Gustavo Robledo, manager of the Cartagena Container Terminal project for FMG, said in an interview here that while the new terminal will be more efficient than the existing state-run port at Cartagena, thus requiring fewer jobs, "We'll see an increase in industrial employment thanks to lower port costs, and Colombia will be able to export products that we're not exporting now."

According to a study recently prepared by Tams Consultants Inc. and Container Transport Technology, demand for containerized cargo will rapidly outstrip capacity at the existing government-operated terminal.

"The present port has no specialized container handling facilities, and containers are loaded and unloaded using conventional port gear or the ships' own equipment," the study said. "As a result, costs are high and the productivity rates is quite low. Moreover, the terminal lacks adequate space and draft for handling and storage of the projected level of traffic."

Upon completion, the new terminal - located on a 215-acre site in Mamonal district fronting Cartagena Bay - will be four times larger than the existing port, and will for the first time open Cartagena to large container ships that utilize shore-based gantry cranes.

Alfonso Mejia Navarro, manager of Conscaribe S.A., the terminal's chief contractor in Cartagena, said construction crews have already begun dredging the site to an eventual depth of 42 feet. In its final stage, the terminal will boast a 300-meter dock and 300,000 square meters of patio space. He said Cartagena's geographical advantages made it a logical choice for the container port, even though the city is nowhere near Colombia's main coffee-growing regions.

"Cartagena is well-situated to receive cargo not just from elsewhere in Colombia, but from all the islands of the Caribbean," he said. "From here, it's only 70 hours' transit time to San Juan (Puerto Rico). Besides, Cartagena has good road connections with other cities, and is linked by river with the interior of the country." Added Lloreda: "Cartagena Bay is ideal for receiving large container ships, which is not the case with Barranquilla or Santa Marta (Colombia's other chief Caribbean ports).

Despite coffee's current importance to the Colombian economy - it now represents 35 percent of the country's export earnings and 21 percent of its containerizable cargo - the report says that "among containerized commodities using the new (Cartagena) terminal, coffee exports will gradually lose their early importance, making room for faster-growing general cargo exports and imports such as chemicals, synthetics, glass and ceramics, vehicles, fruits, frozen seafood, machinery, parts and equipment."

Aside from labor unions, which oppose the new Cartagena project on the grounds that it will put longshoremen out of work, many groups in addition to the coffee lobby support the project, from the National Association of Small Industries to the Colombian Federation of Metallurgical Industries.

So do Colombia's leading newspapers. A recent editorial in Bogota's El Espectador argues that, "rather than competing with other government ports, the container terminal would complement their activity and provide an element vital to maintaining the force of our international trade. Barranquilla's Diario del Caribe says the Cartagena terminal "highlights just how far Colombia has fallen behind in such matters, and the fact that preoccupying port deficiencies are jeopardizing the relative competitiveness of national products."

Municipal officials also support the project, though for a different reason. They hope increased commercial activity will make up for a sharp drop in tourist and cruise ship revenue following a wave of drug-related violence that has virtually paralyzed Colombia's tourist trade.

Claudia Fadul, director of tourism promotion in Cartagena, said cruise ships have stopped calling on the colonial port city, and that foreign arrivals are down 80 percent since a bomb went off in the Cartagena Hilton last September, killing two people. About half the city's 800,000 inhabitants depend on tourism for a livelihood.
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Title Annotation:Cartagena, Colombia
Author:Luxner, Larry
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Aug 1, 1990
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