MALAWI has for the past ten years registered a sharp decline in the use of Beira Port in Mozambique, according to traffic statistics sourced from the port’s authority.
A report from Cornelder de Mozambique, the company that won a 25 year-long concession from the Government of Mozambique in 1998 to run the port, points to a sharp decline in the use of the port by Malawian exporters and importers.
It says, for instance, that, while the country’s imports and exports traffic amounted to 570 million metric tonnes in 1998- and went on to reach a 1, 3 million metric tonnes peak in traffic in 2002- Malawi has failed to beat its own record peak of 2006.
In 2006, only 1.2 million metric tonnes of Malawi’s imports and exports passed through the Port of Beira, a figure that dropped in 2007 when 1.1 million metric tonnes passed through the port, largely considered as a gate way for Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Only 940 thousand metric tonnes of cargo were serviced through the port last year. Traffic records for this year’s first half do not point to a rosy picture for the port authority either, as (from January to June, 2009) only 430 thousand metric tonnes have passed through the Port of Beira.
Malawi’s top cargo through the Port of Beira includes Tobacco, Tea, Cotton and Sugar.
This sharply contradicts with total traffic flow for the port’s main users (Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and the Democratic Republic of Congo) during the same period.
In 1998, 980 thousand metric tonnes passed through the port, a figure that popped up to a record 230 million metric tonnes in 2008. So far (from January to June this year), 880 thousand metric tonnes have passed through the port.
The biggest decline in total traffic was registered in 1999, when only 850 thousand metric tonnes were shipped through Beira- though the picture this year also points to a general decline by end 2009, though traffic flows have already slipped past the general traffic flow record for 1999.
The declining figures (both Malawi and other port-user countries) have not eluded the attention of Cornelder de Mozambique officials. The company’s Executive Managing Director, Carlos Mesquita, said in Blantyre in an interview the port authority had now embarked on intensive investments projects aimed at improving the scales for business.
Mesquita said the company- owned 67 per cent by Cornelder Holding and 33 per cent by the Mozambican Port and Railways- has for the past five years been injecting between US$3 million (K420 million) and US$4 million (K560 million) in equipment and infrastructure development.
“The decline in general traffic inflow during 2008 has come because we had some problems at the port, some of these pertain to the shallowness of the channel. Dredging will start in September and is slated to end in February, 2010. We have also invested heavily in infrastructure and equipment as we anticipate more traffic in the next three years,” said Mesquita.
He dismissed suggestions pointing to poor capacity at the port, saying the Port of Beira has been operating on 40 per cent capacity. The port has a nominal capacity of 5.0 million metric tonnes, but only 2.03 million metric tonnes are currently being handled at the port.
Wheat, maize, granite, fertilizer, clinker, rice and sugar top the list of commonly handled general cargo, though the port also has container facilities for tobacco, sugar, cotton, timber logs, (metal) scrap and vermiculite.
General cargo accounts for 47 per cent, while container goods make up for the remaining 53 per cent.
Clearing and Forwarding Agents Association of Malawi chairperson, Eddie Kaluwa, said the decline in Malawi traffic could have something to do with satisfactory service.
Kaluwa said Malawians now had the discretion to choose a port of their choice, should they feel short-changed elsewhere, and asked for fair treatment.
Just such a thing happened with the Port of Dare salaam. When Malawian importers and exporters felt short-changed on service delivery, they opted for other ports- a development that has culminated into few importers and exporters passing through the port these days.
Back in Mozambique, competition no longer pits the Port of Beira against Nacala; it is either Beira or Nacala against the port of Durban- though charging rates there vary with the strength of the Rand, further giving the Mozambicans an upper hand.
There has been little valuation in rates at Beira for the past nine years, as Durban struggles to balance the Rand with the port rates. This often means changes in pricing.
Kaluwa said some port authorities had the tendency to favour countries with more cargo, a development he said disadvantaged Malawian freight forwarding and clearing agents.
This seems to have declined, however, now that Zimbabwe- one of the massive importers and exporters before its economic crisis- has eased its gear down owing to the situation back home.
Importers and exporters who use Beira Port expect tough competition once the economic situation stabilizes in Zimbabwe