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Central America Ports Need Reforms

As trade grows in Central America the region needs to improve its ports infrastructure, shippers and port experts say. El Salvador leads the way.


Central America can boast a free trade accord with the United States - an achievement larger economies like Colombia and Peru have yet to copy. And the region is now negotiating a free trade association agreement with the European Union. Combined, such free trade accords are expected to significantly boost Central America's international trade.

Yet, Central America has a major problem. Its ports are still in need of modernization. "Central American ports overall are not that efficient, and based on studies of international organizations we could say they are behind if compared to South American and Caribbean ports," says Julian Palacio, the Colombia-based Latin American Coordinator of the American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA).

John Hourihan, senior vice president and general manager for Latin America services at U.S.-based shipping line Crowley Maritime Corporation, agrees. "In comparison to world-class level, the Central American ports are for the most part not there," he says.


The lack of more advanced facilities has led shipping lines like Crowley to use ro-ro vessels, which allow cargo to be rolled on and rolled off without having to use cranes. "Over the years we've learned to adapt to conditions that exist there," Hourihan says. "We have ro-ro vessels [and] can ramp, so we're able to use less berth space, we're not bringing the ships alongside [the ports and] we don’t rely on any of the port cranes."

The ports in Central America in general need to modernize their facilities as well as improve infrastructure leading to and from the ports such as roads and railways, says Isaac Cohen, a Guatemalan economist and former Washington director for the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). "One of best ways to improve the ports...


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