It is indisputable that international investors have their eye on the Colombian Pacific coast, due to the enhancement of port infrastructure required by increased trade with Asia and the Pacific coast of the Americas. Indeed, Buenaventura Port, which already handles 60% of the cargo entering or leaving Colombia, is the subject of substantial investments directed to infrastructure improvement as well as the construction of new port terminals and cargo handling equipment.

Alongside the significant growth that awaits Pacific port terminals, the Atlantic coast is similarly experiencing a remarkable development process, which can be beneficial for the country – and particularly for emerging cities like Barranquilla. La arenosa (the sandy city), as Barranquilla is also known, expects to equal its neighbours Cartagena and Santa Marta, which traditionally enjoyed a higher port development.

Barranquilla has great potential to grow. René Fernando Puche, president of the Port of Barranquilla, stated that for the past four years, a $178m investment plan has been under way to respond to the new challenges that exterior commerce and the country’s growth bring to the terminal and to increase multi-purpose cargo operations in the region. According to Puche, the public sector has also been involved in enhancing road connections. “Barranquilla Port has now the capacity to receive twice the cargo that it currently receives. The public sector has understood operators’ needs and is consequently working on a new road that will substantially improve access to port terminals,” said Puche.

The investments at the port and the concession of new terminals are clear signs that the city expects to witness a substantial increase in cargo traffic, partially as a consequence of the signing of free trade agreements (FTAs). “In 2012 the port mobilised 4.6m tonnes and in 2013 we expect an increase of 5% or 6%, around 400,000 tonnes,” stated Puche.

The most recent terminal to arrive in the Barranquilla Port area is Barranquilla Container Terminal (BCT), a joint venture between SSA Marine, the world’s largest private operator of container terminals and Bitco, a subsidiary of the Regional Port of Santa Marta. BCT has invested more than $60m in its facilities, including the import of three gantry cranes from the US. BCT’s commercial manager, Alejandro Munera, would like to see Barranquilla’s port zone become a logistics hub so that it can to maximise the potential of the Magdalena River, which connects the country’s centre with the city.

Increasing the navigability of the Magdalena River falls under the remit of Cormagdalena, an institution formed to manage the river improvement works. “While Cartagena is today the leading port in the Colombian Atlantic coast in terms of cargo movement, Santa Marta is the only deep-water port in the country and processes almost all cargo coming from Bogotá and Santander, as the road passes by,” Munera told OBG. “Thus, Barranquilla depends on the connection with the centre of the country through the river if it wants to compete.”

Businessmen in Barranquilla interviewed by OBG were almost unanimous in the view that enhancing the navigability of the Magdalena River would be critical to enhancing the potential of Barranquilla as a logistics city. For example, Puche told OBG that, “Improving the navigability of the Magdalena River is absolutely critical to the development of Barranquilla as a logistics centre. Without an increase in the traffic flows on the river the volume of trade in Barranquilla will barely grow at all.”