Jan. 19, 2015

Aitor Ibarreche


Aitor Ibarreche

CEO, Hutchison Ports Holding Panama


Aitor Ibarreche is a Mechanical and Electrical Engineer graduated from Universidad Iberoamericana, México. Additionally, he holds an MBA and MSPM from the University of Miami. He has over 18 years of experience in the port industry, 13 of which have been with HPH Group, where he began his career in 2001 with HPH México. Since then, he has held several key positions including Executive Director and Commercial Director, where he created, developed, and successfully implemented a great number of commercial projects that are now running with remarkable and effective results. Aside from his successful career, he supports teamwork and enhances the talent and values of his employees and co-workers.

What was Hutchison's impetus for entering the Panamanian market?

The Panama Canal is a prime tool that the shipping industry has to its advantage. The connectivity that it provides for the trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic trades, connecting the east and west coast of the US, as well as the east and west coast of South and Central America, is a tremendous asset. Most of the world was experiencing port privatization 17 years ago. Hutchison Ports Holding (HPH), the largest container operator in the world, saw the opportunity to invest in Panama since the government was undergoing the privatization process of a port concession, which represented an opportunity to develop container terminals at both ends of the canal. Today, HPH Panama is considered the most important port operator in the country. With operations on both ends of the canal, a major initiative for the company is to further assist in this connectivity in order to develop a more efficient manner for crossing the canal. This, in turn, will reinforce the process to logistically make Panama the best network in the world.

Panama Ports Company has operations on both sides of the canal, in the ports of Balboa and Cristóbal. Which is the most important factor for the company's activities?

Our operations in Panama, at the Port of Balboa and the Port of Cristóbal, are both equally important for us. We envision a system that utilizes diverse modes of transportation, such as barges, trucks, and rail to provide a high-value service structure to fulfill our client's needs. The Hutchison portfolio is solid with an extensive history in Asia, where some of the largest ports are located. The company operates 52 ports in over 26 countries and strategic cities such as Rotterdam, Felixstowe, and Barcelona; nonetheless, Panama has two of the most important ports for the group.

What is your future plan for expansion?

We are currently re-engineering our container operations, which represent a solid business with room for further development. We will therefore have greater capacities and new licensing ideas, similar to what we have implemented in other countries, such as automation; between the two ports we handle about 3.5 million TEUs per year, but have the capacity to reach a total of 6.5 million TEUs per year. We are also focusing greater efforts in areas such as automobiles, general cargo, agricultural grain, and minerals. We have considerable capacity available in the Atlantic, an area that has not been fully developed, and are currently working on a master plan to do so.

What are the key routes for your operations?

The trans-Pacific route is the most important, connecting Asia to the west and east coast of South America. On the other side, there is the trans-Atlantic route from Europe to the east coast of North and South America. A smaller portion is destined for the Caribbean and the west coast of South America.

Panama is now signing numerous free trade agreements (FTAs) like the one signed with Mexico in April, which will make it possible for Panama to participate in the Pacific Alliance. What impact would this union have on your business activities?

For Panama, it will undoubtedly be beneficial, although for us it will have a limited benefit. This alliance is designed to increase and foster international trade. For our ports, the majority of business involves transshipments, with only 5% of local cargo going through Panama. Global trade is much more important for our business, where China plays an important role.

What will be the impact of the Panama Canal expansion at your company?

It will have a major impact because of the increased container (trade) volume. Although our ports already have the capacity to handle vessels of up to 15,000 TEUs, it is probable that a good amount of these vessels, which nowadays aren't able to pass through the canal, will eventually be able to do so.