WJ Editorial

China Knows How Important Dredging Is. Do We?

In an exclusive story, the news agency Reuters reported August 16 that the Shanghai Dredging Company, part of the Chinese state-owned construction mega-firm Chinese Communication Construction Company (CCCC), is preparing to submit a bid to take over the dredging of Argentina’s Paraná River. The Paraná carries 80 percent of Argentina’s agricultural exports—not just soymeal livestock feed, of which Argentina is the world’s largest supplier, but corn and wheat as well. Reuters called it a “grain superhighway.”

The Paraná dredging contract—the largest logistics contract in the country—is currently held by global Dutch dredger Jan de Nul. The Argentine government is getting ready to issue new invitations for new bids next year.

China is the main buyer of Argentine soybeans. The Chinese conglomerate Cofco (also state-owned) is the largest commodities export broker in Argentina. The Reuters article quoted Margaret Myers, head of the Asia-Latin America program at the Inter-American Dialogue, as saying the potential bid is part of a larger effort by Beijing to “invest across international agricultural supply chains to better control supply and pricing.”

The Paraná is already deep enough to allow ocean-going vessels to travel far upriver to the Argentine port city of Sante Fe, one of the world’s most inland seaports. That’s a distinct transportation advantage.

It’s already clear by now that the global soybean market has been permanently changed. No matter what happens from now on with regard to tariffs, U.S. soy growers are going to have a lot of scrambling and hard thinking to do.

It’s possible that the Chinese would have been interested in investing in the Paraná River even without President Donald Trump’s tariff war that has shut out most U.S. soybeans from the Chinese market. But no doubt that has increased their urgency.

Meanwhile, here in the U.S. we are scrambling to get emergency dredging funds to where they are needed on the rivers. The River Industry Executive Task Force reported that there was an emergency transfer of $2 million to keep seven dredges working on the Upper Mississippi River. But that’s a temporary band-aid.

As of this writing, there is no further word on whether $100 million in emergency dredging funds already appropriated by Congress to deal with this year’s unprecedented flooding—and silting—of multiple river systems has been cleared and delivered by the Office of Management and Budget to the Corps of Engineers. It’s been more than two months since the bill was signed by the president.

America’s farmers and shippers deserve better.

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