Liberia’s Port Shows Surge in Trade as Nation Recovers from Ebola
September 16, 2015
APM Terminals says a 30% jump in container volume through Monrovia demonstrates a gathering recovery after disease devastated the population and the country’s economy.
Liberia is seeing a surge in trade as it recovers from an Ebola epidemic that killed thousands and virtually halted economic activity for months, the manager of the country’s sole container terminal said in an interview Tuesday.
The country was declared Ebola-free for a second time by the World Health Organization earlier this month, after a handful of cases were reported in July. Over 11,000 people died of the disease in three West African countries over the course of the outbreak.
Liberia’s economy barely expanded in 2014 and is expected to grow at an anemic rate this year, down from more than 8% annual growth before Ebola. Still, container volumes are expected to jump roughly 30% this year, to about 100,000 twenty-foot-equivalent units, said George Adjei, who manages APM Terminals’ port facility in the capital Monrovia.
Liberia is seeing a rush of imports as construction companies, food sellers and commodities producers stock up on foreign goods they couldn’t obtain during the outbreak, Mr. Adjei said. APMT’s facility receives 90% of Liberia’s imports, the company says.
“Last year the streets were empty” in Monrovia, he said. Now, “It’s jam-packed.”
The unit of Danish shipping and oil conglomerate A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S is betting on a return to pre-Ebola growth with a $120 million effort to modernize the terminal.
The company won a 25-year concession to operate the facility in 2010, as the government sought to draw in the foreign investment needed to rebuild infrastructure from neglect during the country’s civil wars, which ended in 2003. When APMT took over, the terminal’s dockside walls had partially collapsed and little onshore infrastructure existed to house cargo.
APMT expects in 2017 to complete improvements to the area around the port, including paving over land near the terminal, installing modern container-tracking systems and building warehouses and other facilities. Mr. Adjei said the terminal is profitable but hasn’t made back its investment yet.
Mr. Adjei said the global trade slowdown has affected traffic through Liberia’s port, as the country’s commodities-dependent economy has been battered by a steep drop in the price of iron ore, a major export. However, APMT expects shipping to pick up as the recovery effort continues, and as Liberia’s transportation network improves.
Roads are under construction to connect Monrovia to parts of the country’s interior that produce iron ore, timber and palm oil, as well as population centers in neighboring Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Many of the roads are being built by companies from China, which is a major buyer of Liberian commodities. Those projects are still moving ahead despite China’s economic turbulence, and they should boost cargo traffic through Monrovia’s port as they are completed, Mr. Adjei said.
“At some point [China’s economy] will turn the corner, and we will be there,” he said.
Source: By Brian Baskin - Wall Street Journal