The volume of shipping containers passing through Colombian ports fell by 4.7% in the first quarter of 2017 compared to the same period last year, according to a recent report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).
This is a stark contrast to the regional increase of 6.7% in the quarter and represents more bad news for Colombia’s largest ports. Buenaventura, which was Latin America’s seventh biggest port by volume in 2016, per ECLAC, saw its container volume fall by a staggering 18.5% in the first quarter of 2017, the sharpest drop of any major port in the region.
As noted by ECLAC, while the rest of Latin America is going one way, Colombia is still lagging behind. “The [Latin American] figures reveal a change to growth rates on two digits for a big number of ports of containers in the region,” said ECLAC in a statement. “The increase of the port movement of containers reverse the fall observed in 2016.”
In the 2016 calendar year, with Brazil and Argentina both in recession, container volume in the entire region contracted by 0.9%. In Colombia, the data last year was even worse, at negative 3.6%, but the first quarter 2017 figures for the Andean nation show that Colombia is continuing to struggle even while the rest of the region recovers. Only Ecuador, with a 6.1% drop in the first quarter, performed worse than Colombia, according to ECLAC, the regional economic organization of the United Nations.
By contrast, five nations showed double-digit growth while three others experienced expansion of more than 6%. The leading countries, in terms of container volume growth, in the first quarter were: the Dominican Republic (38.8% growth), Nicaragua (22.1%), Panama (12.6%), Mexico (10.0%), Chile (10.0%), Peru (8.2%), Guatemala (6.9%), and Honduras (7,7%). Uruguay (2.7%), Brazil (1.4%), Costa Rica (1.2%), and El Salvador (1.0%) also showed positive growth in the first quarter.
Overall, per ECLAC, only 732,185 twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) containers passed through Colombian ports in the first quarter compared to 768,370 TEU in the first quarter of 2016. Buenaventura only handled 108,628 TEU compared to 133,342 TEU in the first quarter 2016. Cartagena, by far Colombia’s largest port and the fifth largest in Latin America in 2016, also dropped by -4.1%. Its port only handled 549,971 TEU in the first quarter compared to 573,455 TEU during the same period last year.
In terms of individual ports, the biggest percentage drops across the region came in Buenaventura (-18.5%), Buenos Aires (-9.1%), Paranagua, Brazil (-7.3%), and Guayaquil (-6.1%).
Photo: A Hapag Lloyd container ship in Cartagena, Colombia. (Credit: Roger W)