Ecuador currently has four large stated-owned commercial ports, Esmeraldas, Bolivar, Guayaquil and Manta, as well as three other smaller ports, namely La Libertad Port with a maximum draft of 12 meters, and Bahia De Caraquez and San Lorenzo Ports that are both small river ports with maximum drafts of 7.8 meters and 6.6 meters, respectively. At one time Bahia De Caraquez was in fact Ecuador's largest port; however, the focus there now is on eco-tourism activities.
In terms of overall container traffic using the standard unit of measurement, equivalent to containers of 20 feet or 6.25 meters (TEUs), Ecuador was ranked number 54 in the world in 2012 with a world share of only 0.2% according to Fact Fish data. However, TEU traffic increased from 1,000,895 TEUs in 2009 up to 1,124,415 TEUs overall for Ecuador's ports in 2012 (World Bank figures), somewhat bucking the global trend for deceleration in port activities. Of its near neighbors, Colombia suffered a 6.9% decline in port trade, Venezuela was down 8.2%, and Panama dropped by 4.1% in 2013 compared to 2012 figures. In contrast the latest report released by the UN's Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) shows that Chile's growth was up 6% in 2013 compared to 2012 figures, Brazil was up 6.2%, and Ecuador's trade rose by a more modest 3.9%. The best results were experienced in Uruguay and Argentina where port trade rose by 9.7% and 9.8%, respectively.
BANANAS FOR SALE
In terms of specific areas of trade, Ecuador is the world's largest exporter of bananas and they make up a whopping 22.3% of the country's exports. Some 40% of this trade goes through the Port of Bolivar in El Oro Province, where 92% of the port's activities relate to banana exports, while the remaining activities include the export of other perishable goods such as broccoli, pineapple, mango, and passion fruit, as well as cocoa. Between January and October 2012 a total of 1.26 million tonnes (1.38 million tons) of fruit were exported through Bolivar Port. By way of comparison over the same period in 2013, 1.29 million tonnes (1.42 million tons) of bananas alone left via the port thanks to infrastructure improvements worth $51.2 million, according to figures from Fresh Plaza Global Fresh Produce and Banana News.
RESTRUCTURING TO IMPROVE GROWTH
One of the maritime policy issues Ecuador's government is wrestling with currently is rivalry between the state-owned ports of Esmeraldas, Bolivar, Guayaquil, and Manta. To this end, in 1H2014 Ecuador's President Correa passed a decree abolishing the four port authorities and centralized their administration under the Ministry of Transport and Public Works instead. The government's intended strategy is to develop each port's area of specialization in the hopes of forming a complementary countrywide port infrastructure capable of future growth. There is also a desire to capitalize on Ecuador's geostrategic position with a view to benefiting from the current Panama Canal expansion program. Of Ecuador's four state-owned ports Esmeraldas, situated at the mouth of the Esmeraldas River, is the furthest north and serves the country's northern hinterland including exporting its agricultural products, wood, and wood chips. The Port of Manta positioned at the center of Ecuador's Pacific Ocean coastline is the country's deepest port. It has an international terminal and also has a niche as the hub for Ecuador's tuna fishing industry and related export trade for which the port has a second fishing terminal. In terms of international trade, Manta competes with Guayaquil Port, which is only 200 kilometers away and accounts for the largest volume, some 90%, of both inbound and outbound cargo in Ecuador despite not being as deep as Manta Port. Bolivar Port dominates the country's banana trade. As Rocío del Pilar Proaño Villareal, Sub-secretary of Ports and Maritime Transport told TBY in a recent interview, “Our concern leans more towards specializing our ports for greater dynamism and activity." To this end there is a two-stage development plan to increase the water depth at Manta Port from its current 12 meters to 14 meters, then 16 meters to allow larger vessels in. With further government investment earmarked to create another port beyond the Gulf of Guayaquil to allow for increased shipping traffic without the need to dredge the existing Guayaquil Port channel.