In company’s 20th anniversary, Multimar President Patrick Campbell talks to the Herald
The shipping agency Multimar recently celebrated its 20th birthday with its founder Patrick Campbell still at the head of the company. He told the Herald that thanks to his alliance with the Japanese firm Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK) he learnt how to offer the most diverse logistic solutions in Argentina. The company was established in Buenos Aires as a regional operator, but it also has branches in Asunción, Paraguay, and Montevideo, Uruguay.
How did you create the company?
It was in 1995. We were helped a lot by the privatization of the port sector and the Ports Act. It went from being an inefficient state company to a regulated platform for foreign investment in the country. This was also accompanied by the creation of the waterway. We were the first company to offer a full maritime transport service between Japan and the east coast of South America, with 11 ships and a total journey time of 33 days.
You have a partnership with the Japanese firm NYK. How did this come around?
I always had a good relationship with NYK. It began even before I set up the company. I got the chance to do an internship with them in Japan when I was a young man starting out in the trade. There I learnt a lot of things, especially the concept of a new type of service that was emerging in the maritime industry. The Japanese offered a lot more than the Argentines were doing. It was not just a port-to-port service, but an integral logistics system that went beyond just importing or exporting goods. At the time, logistics was a new word for an Argentine businessman. Luckily I learned the trade surrounded by the Japanese culture, which is based on strong work ethic, honesty and forward thinking.
You have called for a new logistics plan to be implemented in Argentina on various occasions. Is this still the case?
Yes. There is a huge infrastructure deficit. Foreign trade is a very important industrial element for a country. Private enterprise has always got a little further than state-run companies. This is a business that has to have long-term projection and in Argentina we tend to not go beyond the short term.
What are the current problems that the company faces?
The privatization worked at the beginning but then the model was not deepened as we would have liked. There needs to be strategic backing from the authorities. There are a lot of regional partners that are suffering the current high logistic costs, high taxes and the lack of infrastructure in Argentina.
What has happened with regional organisms like Mercosur or Unasur? Have they provided greater economic integration?
This is a pending issue. It’s like the Mercosur. It’s all good and well that there is an agreement between regional countries but the underlying problems have not been solved. When you have free trade agreements like Chile, for example, this allows you to have clear rules, low duties. However, we have had lots of trouble with Brazil due to the differences in the countries’ economic models. In foreign trade, it’s almost as if Brazil has become an enemy.
The company began in conservative Peronist Carlos Menem era and now celebrates 20 years at the end of Kirchnerism. How do you compare the two periods?
There are things that were done well and badly in both periods. The problem we have always had in Argentina is that when somebody new comes into power they have tended to destroy everything that was done well and start again from scratch. It is very difficult to deal with this. During the Menem decade we were able to open to the world and nobody can deny that the first years under Néstor Kirchner were good because the economy was growing and we had clear rules to abide by. But the last few years have been very difficult. The economy hasn’t grown and there have been a lot of unnecessary obstacles put in place.
How has the dollar clamp affected the company?
What one has to understand is that there are other countries involved in this business and they don’t understand what is happening in Argentina at this moment in time. Not having the right information is also a problem. When we make a budget we cannot be sure what the real exchange rate is and how much inflation there is. This makes its impossible for us to plan for the long term.
What are your expectations for the new government?
We are very hopeful. The only thing we ask for is competent politicians who are able to understand what the private sector needs in order to achieve growth in the coming years. We need to know what plans the government has for the next 10 years in the region. We need to stop wasting time resolving day-to-day problems.
What are the three measures the new government should take to breathe life back in to foreign trade?
There needs to be investment in infrastructure, both vial and fluvial. There needs to be more free trade agreements so that Argentina can regain its place on the world market and there must be clear rules to follow.
By Ernesto Lugones
Buenos Aires Herald
Lunes 30 de Noviembre de 2015