IN THE DOCK

Ecuador 2012 | TRANSPORT | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to José Miguel Muñoz, CEO of Contecon Guayaquil SA, on operating the Port of Guayaquil, expansion plans, and the future of the maritime industry.

Contecon obtained a concession for the Port of Guayaquil in 2007. Why did your parent company decide to invest?

Contecon Guayaquil is a subsidiary of International Container Terminal Services (ICTSI), which handles port operations around the world. The company began operations in 2007, when the bidding for the lease of Guayaquil took place. ICTSI decided to invest in Guayaquil because the group follows a growth policy for its global operations. In the Americas, there are many opportunities to expand business thanks to the performance of economies like that of Ecuador. In 2011 its economic growth rate was 8%, and this year it is predicted to be around 6%. The opportunity to improve the economy, carry out projects, and design new plants and facilities comes with the need to attend to cargo and maintain good port infrastructure. Contecon's mission is to be ready for increasing demand and to accompany Ecuador on its growth path.

Does Ecuador have a promising economy in terms of trade volumes and growth?

The government is handling the economy in a way that opens up new opportunities for the country. To complement an increasing number of imports, the proper equipment needs to be brought in for production purposes; heavy machinery and raw materials for the construction of new infrastructure such as hydroelectric power plants and oil refineries, among other projects, are required. This is also the case for the private sector. As the economy grows, new business opportunities appear on the horizon for the entire country. Moreover, there is increasing participation from Ecuador in terms of exported goods and international trade. Economic growth has long supported the importance of port operations, and our mission is to grow side by side with the country and seize these opportunities.

“The government is handling the economy in a way that opens up new opportunities for the country."

How has Guayaquil's main port changed since Contecon won the concession?

When Contecon was awarded with the concession for the Port of Guayaquil, we received a 50-year-old terminal, which in many ways did not meet contemporary international demands. Since we took over, we have had to invest over $250 million to expand the port's capacity and be able to handle new cargo and projects. Therefore, we were eager to invest in new infrastructure and more advanced equipment. We have also been investing in technology, security, training, and environmental issues.

What are Guayaquil's advantages over the ports of Manta and Bolívar?

The Port of Guayaquil is close to the commercial, industrial, agricultural, and economic production areas. It is also located toward the center of the country and can handle cargo from other main cities that view Guayaquil as the most convenient place to receive and dispatch cargo to and from international destinations.

The port is about to invest $70 million to increase its capacity. How has Contecon financed this expansion?

Contecon Guayaquil SA is expanding its infrastructure and handling capacity by almost by 50%, which includes the reinforcement of berths, yards, and new handling equipment. Contecon saw an opportunity to finance and participate in its growth via the issuance of debt in the national stock market, in which the main investors were public finance institutions, private banks, private funds, and particular individual investors. In two months, 100% of the securitization was placed on the market. This also reflects the confidence that the local investors have in Contecon's ability to manage its activities.

Why did the company choose to expand the port over the coming year?

The reason behind the expansion of the port was primarily because of the growth in Ecuador's economy. This made us accelerate the investment plan forward by a year in order to accommodate cargo volumes. Our mission is to accompany and go along with the country's growth, and that meant pushing investments forward.

Is the port of Guayaquil a reference for any specific sector or market?

As port operators, we are focused mainly on containers, bulk, and project cargo. We have the infrastructure to attend to these segments. Ecuador has been moving toward the refrigerated cargo business, and I believe that Contecon has an interesting capacity to handle reefer (refrigerated) containers of this type. By the end of 2012 we will have a supply of over 3,500 electric sockets and plugs for reefer containers. These containers will carry a variety of goods, including bananas, fish, fruit, shrimp, vegetables, and flowers.

What are the challenges for this year of expansion?

We will continue to operate as efficiently as possible and search for alternative investments when and where possible. Contecon Guayaquil SA will also continue evaluating how the country needs high-quality port services and infrastructure. We are aiming to engage in discussions with the government regarding the dredging of the port's access channel. It is a very interesting project that will require heavy investment, but offer the country alternatives to service larger vessels. The Port of Guayaquil is always reinventing itself to meet growing incremental needs.

© The Business Year - November 2012