The negotiations for the new concession of the Paraná-Paraguay Waterway reflect the geopolitical tensions between China and the United States. While Beijing seeks to align this navigable artery with its strategies for the new Silk Roads, Washington views the advance of the Asian giant with concern. in our region.
The contract for the operation, expansion and maintenance of the signaling and dredging system in our country was awarded in 1995 to the Hidrovía S.A. consortium, made up of the Belgian group Jan De Nul and the local company Emepa. In 2005 and 2010, the concession was subject to renegotiations and the concession term ended up being extended until mid-2021, when the State resumed control.
The Waterway passed into the orbit of the General Administration of Ports (AGP), which took charge of toll collection. The AGP, in turn, hired Jan De Nul to continue in charge of the dredging tasks.
The future of the Waterway: a complex geopolitical chess
For now, more than two years after the end of the Hidrovía concession, questions arise about what may happen with the trunk navigable waterway in the next Argentine government. In recent months, both Washington and Beijing have made strategic moves and issued statements that hint at their ambitions.
On the one hand, last April, the US ambassador, Marc Stanley, and his Belgian counterpart, Karl Dhaene, visited the dredging works in the province of Corrientes. It was interpreted as a gesture of concern about the interest expressed by China in the future contract. In particular, the company Shanghai Dredging, a subsidiary of the giant China Communications Construction Group, is targeted.
China’s silk routes and the US wink to Paraguay
The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is popularly known as the “new Silk Roads”. About 150 countries are already integrated into this initiative, including Argentina, Uruguay and it is expected that Brazil will also do so soon. In this way, except for Paraguay – which does not have diplomatic relations with Beijing – the rest of the Mercosur partners will be integrated into this ambitious program. Paraguay is precisely in the crosshairs of the latest US moves to contain China’s advance in the Southern Cone. In March of this year, the governments of both countries signed a memorandum of understanding for the development of a Master Plan for the Navigability of the Paraguay River.
Although the project refers to the Paraguayan stretch from the confluence with the Apa River to the confluence with the Pilcomayo, it is clear that Washington’s intervention aims to contain the expansion of China, its greatest geopolitical rival, in the region.