What Mexican port operator Mexplus Puertos plans for 2022

Bnamericas Published: Tuesday, March 01, 2022
What Mexican port operator Mexplus Puertos plans for 2022

Along with building a US$250mn fuel storage and distribution terminal at Altamira port in Mexico’s Tamaulipas state, port terminal operator Mexplus Puertos is planning on making other investments in two terminals it operates in the country. 

In this interview, CFO David Maya Soto tells BNamericas that among these other plans for 2022 is a US$17mn investment for a new dock. But more projects are also being mulled for improving the company’s infrastructure. 

The Mexican company is currently focused on its operations at Altamira port, where it has two terminals – Operadora de Terminales Marítimas (OTM) and Terminal Marítima de Altamira (TMA) – for handling fluids, bulk and liquefied natural gas. 

Even though the operator suspended its operations at Coatzacoalcos port in Veracruz state, Mexplus is still hoping to chase after other opportunities, especially at the country’s top four ports, Maya said.

BNamericas: Which projects is Mexplus pursuing in Mexico?

Maya: The Mexplus group has years [of experience] in port infrastructure and we are among the pioneers in Mexico. Before the 1990s, all infrastructure in Mexico was public – railways, ports, airports, highways. Everything belonged to the federal government.

It was from the 1990s that concessions began being awarded for airports, highways, and ports. So, we are pioneers in private investment in ports and we have bet on the Altamira port in Tamaulipas state because it has many advantages.

Altamira has a privileged location because it is an artificial port. In other words, the location of Altamira was chosen strategically and its dredging was done artificially. We are at the same distance from the US as we are from Mexico City and Monterrey, in Nuevo León. The Altamira port master plan provides awarding concessions to build specialized terminals, meaning that each terminal has a specific purpose and each terminal operator builds its specialized infrastructure according to its cargo. So the container terminals have state-of-the-art infrastructure.

In terms of volumes, Altamira is No. 3 in the country, but Mexplus, in the petrochemicals category, holds the first place. So, we have the largest and most modern private terminal in Mexico, which is OTM, and we have a highly specialized bulk terminal that has also become strategic for the country, which is TMA.

BNamericas: Mexplus has important alliances which have helped it grow in recent years. What are these?

Maya: In the last decade, we have had impressive growth. And, in the past five years, Mexplus' infrastructure doubled. Now, speaking of investments, we have a commercial alliance with US-based refiner Valero Energy in terms of fuels infrastructure. We are part of the Valero distribution network. That means that, in addition to the terminal that was built with IEnova in Veracruz, Valero has a terminal with OTM in Altamira. 

With that, Valero is going to have the only private fuel distribution network in Mexico because, unlike other brands, it is the only one that has tanks and terminals in the country. Apparently, the other oil companies have not been interested in investing. 

BNamericas: In July, you confirmed to BNamericas that construction of the Altamira fuel storage and distribution terminal had started, a key part of your US$1bn network plan.

And CEO José Luis Terrones López told newspaper El Financiero in October the OTM II dock at the same seaport was inaugurated. What other projects are on the table?

Maya: We are also doing other projects related to our terminals. In addition to the terminal that we are restructuring with Valero, which is already under construction and will be ready in a year, we are building a new dock, where we are installing the most modern infrastructure for handling agricultural bulk.

On the other hand, considering that we have gained greater unloading capacity in our new dock, we are already planning, structuring the engineering financing so that our bulk terminal is not left behind and receives a modernization of probably US$40mn, which would make it practically possible to double the handling capacity of the bulk terminal.

We have already finished OTM II, but now we are investing in infrastructure for agricultural bulk as well, and that will lead us to practically double the unloading capacity of the bulk terminal.

BNamericas: Do you have a capex figure for the year?

Maya: The investment that was structured and started with the Valero fuel project is US$250mn, which was announced last summer. This year we are investing around US$17mn in the infrastructure of the new dock, OTM II, and I think that next year we will invest in the modernization of TMA with another US$45mn.

BNamericas: Do you see other opportunities for other projects in other ports?

Maya: Yes. We are always looking for opportunities. We have been working for around 10 years in Coatzacoalcos serving cargo from the Pemex refinery. We spent several years in Coatzacoalcos with great success. However, conditions have changed, and the truth is that for the moment, we have suspended operations in Coatzacoalcos.

The interest of the group is to be in strategic points. For us, the four ports that handle 85% of the cargo in Mexico are of interest to Mexplus. That includes Veracruz and Altamira, where we are already operating.

Regarding Manzanillo, in Colima state, it is not so much our line of business because containers are handled there. But in the Lázaro Cárdenas port, in Michoacán state, there is interest because there are large bulk handlers there. We are really open and we are looking for opportunities. We have explored a few things further north for the development of petrochemicals. The medium-long term vision is to have terminals within these ports.

BNamericas: The government will launch a third infrastructure package under the country's national infrastructure program, likely including port PPPs. Is Mexplus interested?

Maya: No. We are more interested in consolidating what we are doing with Valero in the short term. We have to finish the construction of our new terminal.

Yes, definitely, in the medium and long term, we will be on the lookout for opportunities. However, we are aware that this administration is complicated by the regulations that have been casting doubt on investment with both ports and customs permits.

In addition, the big projects of the federal government have not taken off. For now, we have no interest in making investments in container terminals. And even though we received invitations to participate in tenders for the new Veracruz port, this proposal is still not concluded due to many draft problems and difficulties in connecting the railway.

BNamericas: In 2020, navy ministry Semar became the new port authority. How has that change affected you and what is the relationship like with navy officials?

Maya: The relationship is quite good. Semar officials and the captains of the merchant marine who have taken control of the [port authorities] APIs and the customs administrations are very efficient. They have a lot of disposition and discipline. We feel satisfied with the people who have arrived.

It seems to me that the great challenge is to analyze more carefully the decisions of the federal government from the central point of view. In other words, the modifications that have been made in the hydrocarbons law, in the energy ministry and customs have generated a lot of uncertainty for us and more so because of the decisions that are made without sufficient analysis of the impacts and repercussions.

More than APIs and customs, I believe that we have to be very careful and be promoters that the decisions made in the federal government are made with more analysis and considering the opinion of those who operate customs ports.

BNamericas: What else do you deem important?

Maya: The issue that is on the table for the next years is whether a group made up of industrial, private, financial and governmental parties can be formed to influence the opinion of the federal government, which is taking a lot of decisions that are affecting new investments in the energy sector.

There are clients' investments that are on hold because they are concerned about the many changes in regulation in the country, and, of course, everything that has to do with the issue of ports, which is our line of business.

We hope to have the full support of the federal government and the APIs so that the ports continue to grow and so that private investments continue to sharpen.

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