The work of the Inter-American Committee on Ports (CIP) of the Organization of American States (OAS) is as diverse as the hemisphere it serves.
CIP project manager Mona Swoboda provided an overview of that work at the recent Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA) conference in the Cayman Islands. Swoboda designs, implements and monitors port development projects in the Western Hemisphere in line with OAS-CIP mandates.
“The Organization of American States is the oldest multilateral organization in the world. We basically function and work like the United Nations,” Swoboda said. “We represent all sovereign nations of the Americas — Canada, USA, all of Central America, South America and the Caribbean. The Inter-American Committee on Ports is the only permanent intergovernmental forum that brings together the national port authorities of all our 35 member countries, and we do that to promote competitive, secure, inclusive and sustainable port development.
“We bring together the port stakeholders of our member countries at the highest level, at the ministerial level. Our work is mandate based, which means that our member countries have identified gaps, challenges, needs and have instructed us to work under four pillars,” she said.
Those pillars are the strengthening and promotion of political dialogue; training of human capital and institutional capacity building; technical assistance and project development and implementation; and cooperation with the private sector.
“We believe that the private sector drives and boosts not only innovation and technology but really leads the way in port development,” Swoboda said. “Now over 90% of the ports in Latin America and the Caribbean are privatized, so we really try to bring all stakeholders together and that of course includes the private sector.”
Swoboda has a master’s degree in interdisciplinary Latin American studies from Freie University in Germany. She gained experience in international development working for the German-Honduran Chamber of Commerce in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and then as a fellow of the German Development Agency in Asuncion, Paraguay.
She said OAS-CIP initiatives also involve non-member countries in Latin America and the Caribbean.
“We have [a memorandum of understanding] with the Port Management Association of the Caribbean, which allows us to work with the non-sovereign nations of the Caribbean,” Swoboda said. “We really try to view the region as a whole and include those other nations that are not members of the Organization of American States.” http://pmac-ports.com/
Swoboda said OAS-CIP “strongly believes in bringing all stakeholders of the maritime and port community together. We need to all sit at the same table and understand the port and maritime community as a collaborative forum. We are competitors, but we need to think as a community with a strategic and inclusive and integrated vision.”
She noted that OAS-CIP’s reach extends to the Eastern Hemisphere as well.
“We have over 50 associate members and strategic partners, mostly from Latin America and the Caribbean and the USA, but also from all parts of the world,” Swoboda said. “We work with IMO, we work with ports in France on a great program: a professional development course for women in port management.”
Gender equality is a focus of OAS-CIP, which has annually named Outstanding Women in the Maritime and Port Sectors since 2016. “We all know it is a male-dominated industry, so we try to showcase and encourage women to participate in the decision-making process,” Swoboda said, adding that OAS-CIP signed a memorandum of understanding with WISTA in 2017 “to increase our efforts in key matters.”
OAS-CIP offers continuing education opportunities for women and men.
“Since last July, we’ve granted over 280 scholarships. We have 16 certified professional courses all related to the port and maritime industry. We have two technical professional workshops and a master’s program,” Swoboda said.
She said the organization also hosts conferences to address such issues as competitiveness, logistics and automation. “Since last July, we’ve had about seven hemispheric conferences, and over 670 port officials have attended.”
Port infrastructure is a topic of discussion at every conference.
“We all know that 90% of everything we see in this room has come here on a ship or will go through a port. We know that the quality of the port infrastructure is really vital and a key component to the competitiveness and to the logistics performance of a country,” said Swoboda, pointing out that Panama has the highest quality of port infrastructure in the Latin American and Caribbean region, followed by Jamaica. “Many of these countries — Honduras, Jamaica — have made a lot of investments in becoming so-called logistics hubs because the biggest vessels now don’t fit through the canal, so countries in the region, especially in the Caribbean, have readied themselves to make major investments into their ports for the transshipments and to really become a logistics hub and a player in interregional and global commerce.”
She said Colon, Panama, is the busiest port in the region, handling more than 4.3 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) a year, followed by Santos, Brazil; Manzanillo, Mexico; and Cartagena, Colombia.
“If we look at the busiest container port in the world, which is Shanghai, they are 10 times as busy as our busiest port. So they do over 40 million TEUs and our strongest one is at 4.3 (million). But this of course is all related to the economy,” Swoboda said. “China has a population of 1.3 billion, and Latin America and the Caribbean have a total of 650 million.”
She said member ports see a number of benefits from automation, including lower operational costs and increased productivity.
“It has a lower environmental impact, which is a concern for our member countries. The ports in the region are readying themselves to become green ports. We now have three certified green ports,” Swoboda noted.
“Automation, IT reliance and digitization are also a driver for gender equality and for more inclusive operations because this attracts young women into a port sector that is often associated with manual labor and a male-dominated environment. We really believe that these trends — automation, IT-reliant processes — give the port sector and maritime industry a strategic advantage in promoting gender equality,” she said.
“Technology, as we know, is a driver of innovation and allows for change,” Swoboda continued. “That’s all good, but we need to focus as well on our most important asset, which is our human resource. We believe that you have to make investments in the technological aspect but also continue to invest in your people. We really stress that training, capacity building is a key component, and it has to be aligned with your investment in technology and automation and digitization to increase your competitiveness.”
Governmental involvement is essential, she said.
“We really need updated national port legislation to facilitate the modernization process, and it must be integrated and inclusive, which means they need to include the environmental component, security aspects, social responsibility, gender equality — all these aspects really need to be integrated into this regulatory framework, including international norms and standards, and really establish a basis of a port management system that takes into account the functions and competencies of all stakeholders involved in the maritime and port community.”