Opinion – Vaivém: Arco Norte ports surpass Santos grain exports for the 1st time


The export capacity of the ports of the so-called Arco Norte, those above the 16th parallel, grows year after year, and exports break records. Last year, for the first time, the volume of grain that left through the ports in this region surpassed that of Santos.

The growth in product movement in 2022 was already expected, but it was expressive and came above the estimate, says Elisângela Pereira Lopes, technical advisor to the National Commission for Logistics and Infrastructure of the CNA (Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock of Brazil).

Arco Norte’s ports are important not only for the output of grains but also for the entry of imported fertilizers, since there is a continuous growth of cultivated area and production in the region.

These new departures shorten distances in relation to the ports in the Southeast and South, reduce costs, make the Brazilian product more competitive abroad and have a positive effect on the producer’s pocket.

For the CNA advisor, the new outlets create more options for agricultural frontier producers and have a positive impact on production. The consolidation of these ports will indicate gains in prices and competitiveness, she says.

Export demand, due to the growth in production at the top of the 16th parallel —which includes the North, Northeast and part of the Midwest and Southeast regions— will continue. Hence the need to adjust the capacity of these new ports.

In Lopes’ assessment, the private sector has accompanied this evolution, but the greatest difficulty comes from public investments, especially with regard to midway infrastructure, such as access to ports.

For technicians from IMEA (Mato-Grossense Institute of Agricultural Economics), investments made in road, waterway and port infrastructure in recent years have led to a reduction in freight costs when compared to Arco Sul.

Data from IMEA indicate that the values ​​of grain road freight from Sorriso (MT) to Miritituba (PA) dropped by 53% compared to the product sent to Santos (SP). The data refer to the average from 2016 to 2022.

The departure through Miritituba is one of the logistical solutions of Arco Norte for the flow of cargo. The objective now is to improve traffic conditions between the states of Mato Grosso and Pará, according to IMEA.

Grain production quickly consolidates in the upper part of the 16th parallel. In 2009, Brazil produced 108 million tons of soybeans and corn, 51.9% above the parallel. Last year, the country’s production for these two products was 238.6 million, and 72.1% came from areas above the parallel, according to CNA data.

Exports from Arco Norte, which accounted for 16.6% of Brazil’s total in 2009, reached 37.1% last year. 52.3 million tons of corn and soybeans left last year through the ports above the 16th parallel, a volume that exceeds the 46.8 million tons from the port of Santos. In the case of soybeans, bran and oil are included.

The largest volume of grains still leaves, however, through the ports that are below this parallel. Last year, there were 88.6 million tons, according to the CNA.

The pace of grain output through Arco Norte should intensify a lot in the coming years. From 2019 to 2022, Brazil’s soybean and corn production grew by 6.3% per year; and exports, 9.5%.

While the production of areas located above the 16th parallel increased by 8.9% per year, that of areas below this parallel evolved only 2.2% per year. Exports have grown 16.5% a year since 2009 in the upper part of the country and evolved 7.1% in the lower part.

The ports of São Luís/Itaqui/PDM, of the Belém/Barcarena system and of Santarém are the main ones in Arco Norte. The first two added up to 18 million and 17.4 million tons, respectively, in the export volume of soybeans and corn in 2022.

The ports that are above the 16th parallel are also important for the entry of fertilizers. This region was the only one that maintained growth in external entries in 2022, totaling 8.84 million tons, surpassing the volume of Santos and below the 10.5 million of Paranaguá.

The data are from the Logistics Superintendence of Conab (National Supply Company). Total fertilizer imports in 2022 fell to 38.2 million tons, 8.1% less than in 2021.

The main ports above the 16th parallel are São Luís/Itaqui/PDM (MA), Belém System/Barcarena (PA), Santarém (PA), Ilhéus/Aratu/Cotegipe (BA), Itacoatiara (AM), Santana (AP ) and Barra dos Coqueiros/TMIB (SE).

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