Ecuador prepares to transport more goods by sea as the government and local port authorities develop plans for port expansion and dredging.

To accommodate the growing quantities of steel, machinery, vehicles, and agricultural exports and imports, Ecuador has capitalized on the potential of four main coastal ports: Guayaquil, Manta, Esmeraldas, and Puerto Bolívar. These seaports collaborate under the government's wider agenda for development, and each specializes in certain sectors and functions. Over 2012, an outpouring of investment is set to take place as the ports expand and evolve to meet the growing demand for increased capacity and expect to handle growing traffic volumes.

As Ecuador's most important seaport, the Port of Guayaquil handles approximately 80% of the country's maritime imports and exports. With 10 warehouses offering 320,000 sqm of storage capacity, the port also boasts silos and tanks to store cargo goods such as wheat, steel, fertilizers, and machinery. In total, the port is currently handling an average of 1 million TEUs per year, up from the 600,000 TEUs recorded in 2006. This growth is due in part to the development of infrastructure within the port, which easily connects to the main roads of the city, and a population of almost 4.1 million. This greater network is serviced by several companies that have invested in the port, such as International Container Terminal Services (ICTSI). In an interview with TBY, José Miguel Muñoz, CEO of Contecon Guayaquil SA, a subsidiary of ICTSI, explained that “the opportunity to carry out projects and design new plants and facilities comes with the need to attend cargo and maintain good port infrastructure. Contecon's mission is to be ready for increasing demand and to accompany Ecuador on its growth path." With plans to invest at least $70 million in the expansion of the port in 2012, Contecon Guayaquil is following the trend of larger volumes and growing international interest in Ecuador as a trade partner. Meanwhile, the government is developing plans to dredge the 90-kilometer channel leading to the port, in order to meet the needs of larger container ships.

Aiming to complement the services offered by its southern counterpart Guayaquil, the city of Manta has the potential to become a large maritime hub in the country in the coming years. Its port mainly exports wheat, vehicles, and machinery, transporting over 750,000 tons of freight in 2010 and 900,000 tons of freight in 2011. With $281 million in planned investment scheduled for the coming years—a large portion of which will be contributed by the government—the main target is to increase capacity to 300,000 TEUs per year. The Port Authority of Manta is actively working to install more advanced equipment and improve infrastructure to attract more customers and achieve these targets. Nevertheless, “we have become a very important port in terms of automobile transshipment, and gained a great deal of recognition within the logistics sector for our professionalism, infrastructure, and geostrategic location," Roberto Salazar, President of the Board of the Authority of the Port of Manta, told TBY. Specializing in transporting goods from the automotive and agricultural sectors, the port has also been involved in the development of the Manta-Manaos project, which may eventually connect Brazil to the Pacific Ocean through river shipping corridors.

With 280,000 sqm of open yards and 9,400 sqm of warehousing, Esmeraldas is Ecuador's third largest port. Its main imports are steel products, vehicles, pipes, and cement, and the port chiefly exports wood and palm oil. As a multipurpose port located approximately 600 kilometers from the Panama Canal, the port offers a variety of services, such as mooring, tugging, and provisions. Puerto Bolívar, emerging mainly as a banana port, has also defined itself as an up-and-coming import and export destination. At present it has plans to dredge its channel depth to 14 meters and extend its container-handling platform by 200 meters.

With the widening of the Panama Canal slated for 2014-2015, Ecuador's ports can expect to see a distinct rise in activity and a window of opportunity to expand operations. According to Rubén Morán, President of the Board of the Guayaquil Port Authority (APG), “Once the Panama Canal is expanded, larger ships will be coming through to the west coast of the Pacific. If we're not prepared, we will have higher costs for imports and exports, and we'll lose part of our business and a number of direct routes." The rising tide of traffic arriving and departing on water will likely trigger the significant expansion of Ecuador's ports, and consequently contribute to the growth of the overall economy.