December 8, 2013
Santa Fe urges federal support for roads as grain shipments grow
The powerhouse province of Santa Fe — through which three-quarters or more of Argentina’s grain and oilseed production are exported — complains that the federal administration is not helping it maintain roads crucial for taking cargo to Santa Fe ports, and which are being destroyed by truckloads that sometimes exceed by far the 30-ton limit. The national help is the more necessary considering that Argentine crops are estimated to grow in the next few years to 150 million tones from about 100 million at present, says the administration of Socialist Governor Antonio Bonfatti, who claims that the relationship with the government of Peronist President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is “almost non-existent.” (See Herald story published on September 23).
The province’s Waterworks and Environment Minister Antonio Ciancio regrets that the province is not getting economic support from the federal administration either for waterworks, sewage or road maintenance and that it is the province which finally has to assume the costs.
Below follows an interview the Minister gave the Herald after taking part in late September in a forum sponsored by ENAPRO, the authority ruling the Greater Rosario port complex.
You have mentioned a provincial strategic plan for the four public ports in the province of Santa Fe. Could you elaborate?
After the 1990s reforms, the province was left in charge of four ports: Santa Fe, Rosario, Reconquista and Villa Constitución, and at the time it lacked the a specific agency to handle port issues. After Hermes Binner became governor in 2007 a Co-ordination Agency of Public Ports was created and in 2011, under the government of Antonio Bonfatti it was turned into an agency within the orbit of our ministry. The idea is to combine different geographies and idiosyncrasies. A businessman from Reconquista is not the same as one from Rosario, or one from Villa Constitución to one from Santa Fe.
What are the main challenges?
Here there have been and still are very serious problems. Private ports in the Greater Rosario grew in an isolated way, without a proper assessment of the impact caused by the entire port pole.
port activity grew, it started generating a complex situation for the life of the people in terms of land access, traffic congestion, crime, etc.
Then, we addressed this complex web of relationships in consensus with the private parties to solve all these issues.
Although much remains to be done, we have attained positive results under the Environmental Conduct of Santa Fe Port System Code, involving the province, the private terminals and the public ports, as well as through the Environmental Health Committee of the Province.
The Committee is formed by the Ministries of Labour, Production, Health, Government (Interior) and State Reform, and our Ministry .
What is the specific role of the Environmental Health Committee?
The Committee works on issues that cut across several portfolios, involving issues having to do with the health of the population, workers and production.
For example, when we took office in 2007 we had many problems with spraying trucks heading to port and we even had to lament two deaths.
But with a joint public-private effort involving the Environmental Conduct of Santa Fe Port System Code, undesirable practices have been uprooted.
How is the infrastructure of access to ports?
This is another serious problem we have, precisely as a consequence of the success of the ports. The heavy vehicle congestion in the area at the time of the coarse grain harvest, with a flow of 10,000 trucks per day entering the port area, small towns with very narrow routes whose design dates back 80 years, with national and provincial roads, which makes managing the issue even more difficult.
The biggest congestion problem was in San Lorenzo port. We channelled a very important sum of provincial money to the area to build a new access from the Rosario-Santa Fe highway, reserved only for light vehicles. We continue to make presentations to the national authorities to build up transport infrastructure but this takes time.
What is the basic difficulty?
It is necessary that the nation and the provinces define a transport policy whereby each mode is used in the best possible way, taking into consideration a criterion of economic and environmental sustainability.
In view of some projections, such as over 150 million tons of grain to be transported from the ports of the province of Santa Fe in the near future, we must look to revitalize some means of transport such as railways and ships. In that sense, we are promoting the province’s barge industry (See Herald story published on October 21) and are trying to see some action on the issue of the railway. All this within the county strategic plan which has been drawn up since late 2007, and which involves the ports.
What echo does the plan find in the national government?
We don’t have support from the national government from the economic standpoint. We have raised many times the important issue of contributions for water, sewage, to improve roads, because from here 75 percent of the country’s grain is exported, and trucks destroy our roads and we have to fix them ourselves.
On the Rosario-Santa Fe highway there are sections under use which are under permanent repair because it is very hard to control that each truck has a maximum load of 30 tons.
Sometimes they have 50 or more tons per truck. Federalism is different from what we have today in the nation.
True federalism is from the provinces to the nation, not top-down from the nation to the provinces. The provinces existed before the nation, which is the result of their union.
What about the Paraná-Paraguay waterway?
We consider that the waterway is the cornerstone in the development of Mercosur countries and, of course, of Argentina, because as has been stated at the ENAPRO forum, it enables a number of countries such as Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina to place their production in international ports.
Railroad and barge transportation and improving the waterway must become a reality.
We consider important that both the waterway and the transversal lines of rail transport to Chile and Brazil must have a crossover of benefits for Argentina and Latin America.
What talks has the province held with countries like Brazil?
We have had discussions with various port terminals. For example, with the port of Curitiba we have exchanged experiences regarding the expansion project for the port of of Santa Fe which is very similar to the one they have carried out.
You have mentioned that Rosario has now become a city facing the river. Could you give some details?
Rosario is a port city port and the infrastructure of that activity had built a fence along its coastline. There are plans of 1909 showing the city with many railroads, several piers, many of which remain there, including many of them underground. The city had a “wall” separating it from the port, a “wall” the dimensions of Rosario, 18 km. The city was turning its back on the Paraná River. In the second term of Hermes Binner as Rosario mayor (1999-2003) a fundamental step was taken to open up the city to the river. I happened to be in the task of trying to remove those obsolete railway structures. Initially there was work to open spaces and, in a second stage, the issue of infrastructure was addressed. We opened wide avenues, improved river facilities for the community and land acquired a much higher value, leading to what can be described as a real estate boom which has made the city change its image completely over the last 10 years.