Interview by Pedro Nuno Santos to CARGO: «Ports have to be agents of change»
In an exclusive interview with Revista CARGO (published in the first issue of Revista CARGO in 2020), the Minister of Infrastructure and Housing, Pedro Nuno Santos, covers all the current issues of a portfolio that, with the inauguration of the new Government, was reinforced with the supervision of the port system.
The major projects underway in national ports are one of the key topics of this interview, covering port by port some of the most emblematic investments that run from North to South. But the promised investment in the railroad or the new Montijo Airport are also covered in the interview that follows.
To not lose!
CARGO MAGAZINE: The configuration of this new Government brought to it increased responsibilities, namely in the port portfolio. What national port system did it inherit? And what are the major goals you set for this area?
PEDRO NUNO SANTOS: Work began in the previous legislature and now needs to be continued and reinforced. My objective is to give the necessary impetus to the effective implementation of all planned investments, which are unusual for our country. The materialization of the Strategy to Increase the Competitiveness of the Commercial Ports Network of Continente – Horizonte 2026 represents an opportunity for Portugal to gain the status of a very important platform in the global framework of freight transport.
«National ports are an essential engine for the country’s development and must be agents of change», defends the Minister of Infrastructure and Housing.
The national port system is a fundamental pillar for the economic development of the country and, in an effort of true concertation of all agents, municipalities and port administrations, it needs to be affirmed as a fundamental hub for the internationalization of our economy. We cannot look at port infrastructure in isolation. The sea is and has always been one of our greatest assets. The ports are, therefore, one of the main links between communities and between Portugal and its partner countries. Everything we can do to strengthen the national port system will have an impact on the economy in terms of job creation, the export of services and the facilitation of national exports.
What major challenges do you identify in this sector? Labor instability? Decarbonization? Digitization?
As I have already mentioned, national ports are an essential engine of the country’s development and must be agents of change. As important as investments or the expansion of logistics spaces and improvement of infrastructure, is the expansion of the digital culture of ports, based on knowledge and technological innovation. The great modern factors of competitive differentiation are digital platforms, automation, robotization and clean energy. All of this, of course, is based on collaboration between all agents in the sector and in a climate of social peace.
Particularly: the Port of Sines leads the movement of cargo in the country. With the new projects in the area of containers (expansion of Terminal XX and the new Terminal Vasco da Gama), what ambitions are there for this port at the Iberian, European and world level?
The port of Sines is the largest national infrastructure with a weight currently of 1.5% of the national GDP, a value that will almost double with the investments that are planned for this port. It is precisely in Sines that some of the biggest investments in the sector are planned for the coming years, namely the new Vasco da Gama terminal, whose international public tender was launched on October 15, 2019 and which represents an investment of 650 million euros.
The ambitions for this port do not, of course, neglect the path that has been taken. Therefore, the work must continue to ensure that this port maintains its leadership position as the largest port in the Mediterranean in terms of total cargo handled in national ports, continues to appear solidly in the top 15 of the largest container ports in Europe. Likewise, and with the planned investments that are already underway, it asserts itself as a strategic port in the development of trade between Asia, Europe and South America. The implementation of the investments will make it possible to place the Port of Sines as one of the main ports in the world and particularly in the ‘West Med’, in terms of port offer in the containerized cargo segment, reaching more than 7 million TEU, guaranteeing the capacity to compete and attract new cargo and customers from global logistics chains, reinforcing Sines’ positioning in the international maritime-port context.
Pedro Nuno Santos wants the Port of Sines «to appear solidly in the top 15 of the largest container ports in Europe»
The Government’s commitment to the railway is also a factor to add to the ambitions we have for the port of Sines. The Southern International Corridor, essential in the context of the Atlantic Corridor, will serve the port of Sines a lot, as investment in ports is of little use if they do not have access.
With the unique conditions of the port of Sines, we have an obligation to take advantage of them for the benefit of the people, and not to neglect the effects of this infrastructure so central to the development of the local, regional and national economy.
Still on Sines: when can we expect to have the second container terminal in operation?
Everything will depend on the development of the international public tender that is taking place, which is currently still in the proposal submission phase. However, and considering that there is some normal variation in the deadlines over the course of the tender, ideally the award will take place in the last quarter of 2020 and the work may start in 2021, with an approximate duration of three years.
The Port of Leixões is also in the process of expansion. What position do you see for this port in the national port system?
There’s one idea I’d like to get clear once and for all: ports are not a problem. They are a privilege that only big cities have. Matosinhos today is one of the most important cities in the country and the port of Leixões is a very strong contributor to Matosinhos being a city of national importance. It is an indispensable support infrastructure for companies in the north of the country, essential for the flow of finished products and the supply of raw materials and consumer goods, playing a decisive role in the competitiveness and internationalization of Portuguese companies. We often forget this – ports directly and indirectly impact the entire region. Communities cannot, and should not, neglect the social and economic weight of the port of Leixões and its impact on the territory, which generates around 280,000 direct and indirect jobs and an impact on the national economy of around 5 billion euros. .
«Porto de Leixões is a very strong contributor to Matosinhos being a city of national importance», recalls the Minister
There are several planned and ongoing investments that are very important so that the port of Leixões can continue to develop and serve the country. It is therefore essential to overcome existing capacity constraints, otherwise the port of Leixões will lose competitiveness in the short term. The port of Leixões has a prominent place in the strategy for developing the competitiveness of the national port system, which results from its trajectory, its efficiency, its social peace and a combination of efforts from all parties. This strategy has set the goal for the port of Leixões to achieve a 73% growth in containerized cargo by the end of 2026, and it is this path that we must help to travel.
Another port with important projects underway is the Port of Lisbon. Do you believe that there is still hope that this port will gain the importance it once had? Or, in the future, do you have the ambition to remove the cargo terminals from the center of Lisbon, namely towards the south bank or even betting heavily on the Port of Setúbal?
The port of Lisbon is very important for the development of our country and specifically for the entire Lisbon metropolitan region, so I am aware not only of its importance, but also of the challenges and opportunities it has. From the outset, the port of Lisbon has a major challenge with regard to its position in the national port context, which stems from the labor instability that has been felt. The last 13 years have been marked by an oscillatory trend in the movement of goods in this port. The various stoppages, as a result of the lack of a climate of social peace, have immediate consequences on the credibility of national ports, focusing mainly on the ports of Lisbon and Setúbal, affecting jobs, both direct and indirect, and particularly affecting the supply to the Autonomous Regions. It is important that we are able, as a whole, to resolve this issue.
Pedro Nuno Santos on the future of the Port of Lisbon: «the port-city relationship must be supported»
On the other hand, there is tension between the port and the city. But this is not a question because, in fact, the port areas have been, over the years, urban central areas of the city with constant reordering. Lisbon was born, historically, with its port. It makes no sense to perpetuate this conflict. The port-city relationship must be supported, as this is the only way to foster the development of that region and the country.
That is why the projections for the next 10 years foresee a resumption of growth in the movement of goods, with emphasis on the evolution of containerized cargo and solid bulk, with an investment of 122 million euros in improving the efficiency of the Container Terminal de Alcântara and which will translate into brutal efficiency in the port of Lisbon.
In Setúbal, the local port has been challenged due to the dredging that will allow larger ships and greater safety in navigation. Can we say that the balance between environmental sustainability and economic development is the great challenge in this case and extends to the major works that it oversees?
We live in a time when all investments in infrastructure are seen as a problem, which is extraordinary, because they serve to solve it. But the truth is that these investments allow the country and the regions to develop, and having a port is a great privilege, as I never tire of repeating. Take the exemplary case of Rotterdam, where this balance exists and the port serves the city and its population.
«We live in a time when all investments in infrastructure are seen as a problem», laments the Minister.
There are, of course, no great works that have zero impact; but what must be ensured – the Portuguese Environment Agency does its scrutiny job well – is a balance between all the components of the work and, if there are impacts, ensure that these are properly mitigated.
He took over the railroad portfolio at a time when Ferrovia 2020 did not seem to start. Can we already say that the 2020 Ferrovia is finally at cruising speed?
Ferrovia 2020 had already started, but it is one thing to start the design phase, another is the construction phase. If at the moment we have works on the ground in all the main corridors of the network and we are starting to have some conclusion of works, if today we are at “cruising speed” – it is because essential preparatory work was carried out before I took over the portfolio. Now, the difficulties we had in starting the works of this program are well known and I have had the opportunity to recognize and discuss them several times. What these difficulties show us is how important it is to maintain a permanent and uninterrupted investment pace. When investment stops, companies and people working in this sector have to turn elsewhere, to other types of works or to other countries. The only way for us to recover the ability to design, to carry out the railway work that we already had and no longer have is to give people and companies certainties, to maintain this “cruising speed” so that the investment does not end with the end of Ferrovia2020 .
Pedro Nuno Santos does not want investment in the railroad «to end with the end of Ferrovia2020»
Rail transport seemed neglected for many years. However, the Minister has already admitted that it is one of his priorities. What are the main advantages that you identify in the commitment to the transport of goods and the modal transfer (namely from road to rail)?
The advantages of rail transport are well known, both for goods and passengers. When we want to talk about transport to the interior of countries, of continents, there is no type of transport that is capable of equating the combination of energy and environmental efficiency with the ability to move people and goods that rail transport has. Furthermore, there is no transport that can beat the cost of the train, especially over distances of several hundred kilometers, and the freight business is very sensitive to this point.
«There is no transport that can beat the cost of the train»
If we want the country to develop, for exports to grow, it is essential to be able to offer a transport network that has the capacity to do so and is reliable and efficient. The railroad is the backbone of this network.
What are the main priorities and goals defined for the national rail freight transport?
The priority is to maintain and increase the level of investment. The country has spent too much time investing heavily in the highway and letting the railways languish. That cycle is over! Now we have to run to make up for lost time. We need to continue to invest beyond Ferrovia 2020. Therefore, we have a PNI2030, which is being evaluated by the technicians of the Superior Council of Public Works, and we will have a National Railway Plan. These two instruments are the ones that will allow us to outline medium and long-term investment priorities and, above all, to say what the country expects from its railroad.
«The country spent too much time investing a lot in the highway and letting the railways languish», admitted the minister to CARGO Magazine.
I know this is a magazine dedicated to the transport of goods, but it is important to note that investment in rail for passengers does not compete with investment for goods. On the contrary, many of the investments that we will have to make serve at the same time to increase the speed and capacity of passenger transport, and the capacity and reliability of freight transport. Railroad growth and highway modal shift go hand in hand in passengers and goods.
2019 was a year of turmoil in the road freight transport sector, with the strike by drivers of hazardous materials. Do you think the problem has been fixed for good? Do you consider this agreement your main victory since taking over the Infrastructure portfolio?
Social peace and workers’ awareness that they are respected are very important conditions for the road freight transport sector to be able to develop its activities with gains for everyone, companies and workers, and also for the national economy. The victory went mainly to the companies and workers, who managed to reach a very important agreement.
Speaking of challenges, we could not fail to mention the new airport in Montijo. I ask you how this new airport can also help to increase the movement of air cargo in Portugal?
Cargo transport is a very important complement for airlines that transport passengers. However, the new airport in Montijo is being designed mainly for passenger activity, while cargo activity will be maintained at Humberto Delgado Airport. I remind you that the companies that will use Montijo will be essentially low-cost, which do not depend on cargo transport for their business model.
But about Montijo airport, I want to reaffirm here what I have been saying: for a peripheral country like Portugal, a new airport in the Lisbon region is critical. We are losing hundreds of millions of euros every day because the airport in Lisbon cannot receive the number of flights that seek our country. This translates into less income, less revenue and the Portuguese people lose out. We’ve been going for five decades and studying locations, in successive advances and retreats, postponing decisions. And we have no right to continue to postpone the country’s development.
Source: Revista Cargo