Lula’s trip to Uruguay raises expectations regarding the Mercosur Waterway

The meeting of the Brazilian and Uruguayan presidents, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Luis Lacalle Pou, this Wednesday (25th), in Montevideo, served to, among other matters, revive the perspective that the so-called Mercosur Waterway, which logistics between the two countries through Lagoa Mirim, become a reality. In addition, the possibilities of transforming the Uruguayan airport of Rivera (which borders the city of Santana do Livramento) into an international complex and the construction of a second bridge between the municipalities of Jaguarão and Rio Branco were signaled.

As for the Mercosur Waterway, the director-president of the Waterways Association of Rio Grande do Sul (HidroviasRS), Wilen Manteli, recalls that the subject has been debated for several decades. The connection between the two countries would start through Lagoa Mirim, located in the extreme south of Rio Grande do Sul and in the northeast part of Uruguay. The lagoon has a surface area of ​​approximately 3,750 square kilometers, of which 2,750 square kilometers are in Brazilian territory and 1,000 square kilometers in Uruguayan territory, with an average width of 20 kilometers and depth that varies, most of it , from 5 to 6 meters. From there, it would be possible to access Lagoa dos Patos and the ports of Rio Grande, Pelotas, Porto Alegre and Estrela.

Manteli emphasizes that it is necessary to update the technical, economic and environmental feasibility surveys for using the waterway. Among the points that should be analyzed, anticipates the leader, are the loads that will have to be moved around the region, vessels that can be used and dredging that needs to be carried out. He comments that, in principle, the dredging necessary to deepen the draft is only on the Brazilian side.

In December, the then national secretary of Ports and Waterway Transport of the Ministry of Infrastructure, Mário Povia, stated that the study of the viability of this logistical connection between Uruguay and Rio Grande do Sul would be complemented, improving work that had been initially carried out by the company DTA Engineering. Povia estimated that to make the waterway viable, investments in signaling and dredging would be necessary, initially estimated at around R$ 80 million.

The president of DTA Engenharia, João Acácio Gomes de Oliveira Neto, points out that this is an important project and that it does not require a very large contribution. He attests that the study by DTA Engenharia indicated the feasibility of using the modal, addressing issues such as cargo profile, origin and destination of goods and growth potential.

Oliveira Neto adds that when the tender for the implementation of the waterway is opened, with the corresponding works that make navigation possible, the company is interested in participating in the dispute. “Let’s see if Brazil now also wakes up to the strategic importance that this waterway is, I hope”, he comments.

According to the press office of the Ministries of Transport and Ports and Airports, in 2022, the Union received the donation of feasibility studies for a possible tender for the concession of the Mercosur Waterway in the stretch between the Mirim and Patos lagoons. However, the technical teams of the federal government considered that the document delivered needed improvement. Officials from the Ministry of Ports and Airports participated in the review; the National Waterway Transport Agency (Antaq); the National Department of Transport Infrastructure (Dnit); from Infra SA; and the Investment Partnerships Program (PPI). To proceed with the project, the federal government will receive proposals until this Friday (27) to hire a consulting company that can improve the survey previously delivered.

“I bet on the viability (of the waterway), if not now, one day it will be”, bets Manteli. The director-president of HidroviasRS reinforces that, with the completion of the waterway connection between the two countries, many cargoes from northern Uruguay will be able to access the port of Rio Grande to be exported. This condition would expand the cargo handling potential of the port in Rio Grande do Sul, in addition to enabling the possibility of sending fertilizers to Uruguay, in counter-flow. Manteli also defends that the state government becomes more involved in the matter and encourages the Union to move forward with the initiative.

Potential is to move more than 5 million tons of cargo per year

“It is an agenda that we have historically owed and that interests us”, points out the planning and development manager of Portos RS (the public company responsible for managing the hydroport system in Rio Grande do Sul), Fernando Estima, about the binational waterway linking Uruguay and Brazil. However, he points out that for the initiative to become a reality, public investment is needed, on the part of Brazil and Uruguay, to encourage cargo transport. The member of Portos RS calculates that the perspective is to move around 5 to 6 million tons per year through this waterway, involving loads such as forestry products, ores, grains, soybeans, rice and fertilizers.

“This boosts a frontier of agricultural expansion on both sides, both on the Brazilian and Uruguayan sides”, points out Estima. The Portos RS planning and development manager recalls that one of the defenders of the waterway proposal is the Uruguayan ambassador, Guillermo Valles Galmés, who has already stated that a good part of the neighboring country’s agricultural production could be transported to the port of Rio Grande, reducing distances and logistical costs.

With regard to the Mercosur waterway project, the president of Uruguay, Luis Lacalle Pou, confirmed this Wednesday that in order to implement the idea it is necessary to dredge the channel on the Brazilian side. “The amount (of resources) will not be very high, but it will be important for both nations”, stresses the leader. Still in the area of ​​infrastructure and logistics, Lacalle Pou highlighted Brazil’s support for the internationalization of the airport in the city of Rivera. President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva stated that he will discuss the issue with the Minister of Ports and Airports, Márcio França.

Uruguay also defends the expansion of the bridge that connects the cities of Jaguarão, in Rio Grande do Sul, and Rio Branco, in Uruguay. The construction of a second bridge was already under discussion with the government of former President Jair Bolsonaro. According to Lula, discussions about this work began in his first term. “I thought this bridge was already ready and today I found out that it hasn’t even started. I want to assume again this commitment that we are going to build this bridge. It is in the interest of Brazil, Uruguay, the people of both countries”, he said. This Wednesday afternoon, Lula also participated in a ceremony at the Montevideo city hall, where he received the Más Verde medal, in recognition of his efforts in defense of the environment.

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