Port programme opens ocean of opportunities for Bolivia

09 May 2022

A river port in the landlocked nation that joined UNCTAD’s port management programme is helping importers and exporters overcome logistics challenges.

Bismark Rosales
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© Port of Jennefer | Bismark Rosales is the general manager of the port, located on the Paraguay-Paraná waterway.

Bismark Rosales, the general manager of Port of Jennefer in Bolivia, has seen the country’s trading fortunes improve dramatically since the port earned international status in 2018.

“Our country had a very large supply of soybeans, urea and cement to export, but we were not competitive in international markets,” Mr. Rosales says.

“The reason,” he says, “was not a lack of quality or technology, but the very costly logistics required to transport the goods by land to the ports of neighbouring countries.”

Over 80% of international trade is carried by sea. Without a coastline providing access to global maritime routes, importers and exporters in Bolivia had to rely on ports in neighbouring countries, such as Chile, to trade with the world.

The rugged terrain leading across the Andean mountains to Chile’s ports meant the transit costs to reach the Pacific Ocean were often the most expensive part of total shipping costs.

But in 2018, Port of Jennefer and two of the country’s other river ports were accorded international status, opening up a new world of possibilities along the 3000-kilometre Paraguay-Paraná waterway leading to the Atlantic Ocean.

In just three years, the volume of international cargo floating to and from the country along the waterway has increased by 62%, reaching 2.1 million tons in 2021.

Port of Jennefer

© Port of Jennefer | The Paraguay-Paraná waterway connects Bolivia with the Atlantic Ocean.

A defining moment

When Mr. Rosales started in the port as the administrative and human resources manager in 2011, he saw Bolivia’s trade potential and understood it was hindered by the lack of an international port.

He recommended investing in projects to expand the port, including a new industrial area and terminal, and the dredging of an 11-kilometre long channel to improve access to the Paraguay-Paraná waterway.

A defining moment in his and the port’s journey, Mr. Rosales says, was joining UNCTAD’s TrainForTrade port management programme in 2016.

“Participating in the port management programme gave me the confidence and capacity to successfully direct the many ongoing projects at the port,” he says, “and later to become the general manager.”

Besides completing the port management course, Mr. Rosales became a programme instructor in Bolivia and a trainer and evaluator for participating ports in Argentina, the Dominican Republic and Peru.

New port regulations

The UNCTAD programme helped Bolivia change its port regulations, paving the way for a private operator like Port Jennefer to earn international status.

“At the time,” Mr. Rosales says, “The rules didn’t allow private ports to carry out international trade operations, and Bolivia doesn’t have public ports.”

By putting representatives from businesses, private ports and the port authority in the same room, the programme helped them work together to tackle the logistics and legal hurdles hindering the country’s trade.

New regulations were adopted in 2018, allowing private ports to operate internationally.

“It helped tremendously when we were sitting at the same table, talking about the country’s port development and legislation,” Mr. Rosales says.

A global vision

UNCTAD’s port management programme has a network of about 250 ports in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean. Joining such a global network, Mr. Rosales says, gave him a new vision for Port Jennefer.

“It helped me establish good contact with other ports,” he says. “This has allowed me to have a vision of where we can go with the port and what investments we need to reach those objectives.”

A major improvement he has made thanks to the course was to invest in building direct access from the port’s terminals to the highway, allowing trucks to avoid the neighbouring city of Puerto Quijarro.

“This has reduced traffic in the city, greatly improving the local community’s living conditions,” Mr. Rosales says, adding that he now sees port development not only as a project for his company but also as a national endeavour. 

“UNCTAD's port management programme has changed the history of the Bolivian river and maritime trade.”