Argentina’s government has nationalised the administration of the Hidrovía Paraná-Paraguay waterway by decree, granting control to the general port administration agency.
The decision, formalised last Thursday via Decree 427/2021, assigns the tasks of the hands control of the river network’s maintenance (including dredging) to the Administración General de Puertos (AGP) port authority for at least 12 months until a long-term international concession is awarded.
"The Ports Administration will enter into the necessary contracts to guarantee navigability," the decree said.
The AGP administration extends for some 3,500 kilometres to the Paraná river’s outlet into the River Plate estuary downstream. The waterway is a key route for exports, accounting for 80 to 85 percent of Argentine foreign trade.
Thursday’s decree brings to an end a quarter-century of administration by the Belgian dredging company Jan de Nul and its local partner Emepa since 1995, once the 90-day rollover ruled by Resolution 129/2021 last April expires.
Transport Minister Alexis Guerrera, who replaced Mario Meoni upon the latter’s road accident death last April, justified the nationalisation by saying that it allowed the government "sufficient time to prepare a major tender and thus guarantee navigability.”
Guerrera further assured that “the active participation of the provinces via the Federal Hidrovía Council” formed part of the new regime, which would also incorporate the universities and the Environment Ministry, which will undertake a study analysing how to make the waterway navigable for the next 15 years.
The government is further evaluating placing all the country’s waterways under the control of a new Transport Ministry agency, said the official.
According to the decree, the Transport Ministry will be contracting the dredging services over the next year before launching a national and international tender for longer-term services. The Ministry is expected to outsource dredging to specialised private companies.
The decree places the collection of all waterway tolls in government hands, while assuring a state presence in the Hidrovía’s infrastructure.
The AGP is headed by trustee José Beni, a native of Santa Cruz long close to the Kirchner family and a member of the Instituto Patria think tank.
The farming sector was quick to react to the state move into the outlet for over 80 percent of their exports with former Agriculture Minister Luis Miguel Etchevehere describing its main motive as "to steal the money" in the form of waterway tolls totalling US$300 million, something which he considered to be typical of "a gang of thieves."
Etchevehere said that dozens of world-class dredging companies around the world who would show up in Argentina if there were a "transparent" tender, describing the new development as "a tragedy for Argentine exports."
Gustavo Idigoras, head of CIARA-CEC grain exporters chamber, told a trade outlet Thursday that tolls should be collected by private firms and not the state, in order to ensure funds are not moved around among government bodies and agencies.
Daniel Nasini, head of the Rosario Grain Exchange, said that dredging work should remain in the hands of "specialised companies in the field."
"The state has neither the experience nor the technical capacity to carry out these tasks," he told Infobae, referring to record low water levels in the Paraná River.
"The decree raises concern because it does not provide certainty or long-term guidelines to ensure the continuity of the country's most important waterway," he added in a statement issued by the body.