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June 10, 2020

Future of Paraguay-Parana River System Focus of Virtual Meeting

Author: Michael Cordonnier/Soybean & Corn Advisor, Inc.

Business leaders from five South American countries participated last week in a virtual meeting concerning the future of the Paraguay-Parana River transportation system. More than 400 individuals from Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, Argentina, and Uruguay participated in the 5-hour meeting which highlighted 13 panelists presenting various proposals for the future of the waterway.

The meeting was organized by exporters and investors from the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra in eastern Bolivia. The main agricultural area in Bolivia is centered on the city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra in eastern Bolivia, but Bolivia is landlocked with the only water route to export facilities being down the Paraguay and Parana Rivers to port facilities in Argentina and Uruguay.

Paraguay already exports most of its soybeans by barging the soybeans down the Paraguay and Parana Rivers to export facilities in Argentina. Producers in the upper reaches of the Paraguay River in eastern Bolivia and western Mato Grosso and western Mato Grosso do Sul are anxious to do the same thing.

The state of Mato Grosso do Sul already has two operating ports on the Paraguay River at the Port of Murtinho and the Port of Corumba. The Port of Murtinho has greatly expanded its export capacity in recent years. The port is expected to move one million tons of grain in 2020 compared to 400,000 tons in 2015 and there are plans to construct a second port and grain terminal nearby. The state of Mato Grosso has one smaller port on the Paraguay River at the city of Caceres in southwestern Mato Grosso.

There already exists a highway connection between the grain producing region of eastern Bolivia and the Port of Corumba, which would be the logical destination for Bolivia's soybean exports.

One major concern for ports on the Paraguay and Parana Rivers would be fluctuations in the water levels during the rainy season (October through March) and the dry season (April through September) in the Paraguay River basin. Recent water levels at the port hub of Rosario, Argentina have been at their lowest levels in 50 years. The lack of rainfall is currently being reflected at the Port of Murtinho where the water level on May 25th was 2.8 meters compared to 5.7 meters on the same day last year.

The result of the meeting is a list of 12 recommendations that will be presented in a letter to the governments of the five countries. The development of the Paraguay-Parana River system would be an important component for the future development of soybean production especially in eastern Bolivia.