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Un camionero y un maratonista emprenden un viaje de México a Panamá, ¿quién llegará primero?

Don Heriberto Martínez, un camionero salvadoreño de 55 años, pasó la mayor parte de su vida adulta transportando bienes por el Corredor Pacífico. Dicho corredor es la ruta más corta entre México y Panamá y por él circulan, cada año, bienes comercializables por un valor de 6000 millones de dólares. Generalmente, Martínez tarda ocho días en recorrer sus 3200 kilómetros de extensión. Por otra parte, Dennis Kimetto es un atleta keniata de 32 años que ostenta el récord mundial de maratón. Puede correr a unos 20 kilómetros por hora.
En una competencia hipotética por el Corredor Pacífico, ¿quién llegaría primero? ¿Kimetto, a pie, o Martínez, en camión?

La respuesta correcta es Kimetto, quien a 20 kilómetros por hora podría completar el viaje en 6,5 días. Desde luego que esta es una carrera meramente hipotética, ya que no estamos teniendo en cuenta la necesidad de comer o descansar. Pero claramente pone en evidencia las ineficiencias del viaje de Martínez, quien pasa al menos seis días en los diversos pasos fronterizos, esperando el despacho de aduana, deseando que sus 20 toneladas de materias primas no se echen a perder en el camino.

¿Qué podemos aprender sobre logística y conectividad para consolidar la participación de América Latina y el Caribe en las cadenas globales de valor?

Cuando me encontré con Martínez en la frontera entre Costa Rica y Nicaragua, había estado esperando cinco días a que regresaran los resultados de laboratorio de un cargamento de arroz, cuyas muestras habían sido enviadas a San José para que se les realizara un análisis de residuos químicos. Cuando finalmente logró llegar a destino, había conducido a una velocidad promedio de 16 kilómetros por hora —en total, un 20 % más lento que Kimetto—.

Sobra decir que cada hora adicional tiene un gran impacto, no solo sobre su carga en particular, sino sobre el comercio en general. Los consumidores terminan pagando más y la región en su conjunto se torna menos competitiva. Los costos de transporte en América Latina y el Caribe son entre dos y cuatro veces más altos que en los países de la OCDE. Para las grandes industrias manufactureras, los costos de transporte y del despacho de aduana en Centroamérica pueden representar más de un tercio del costo final. Pero para las pequeñas empresas, estos costos son aún mayores —más del doble del costo final—.

Reducir estos costos logísticos es crucial para que los países de América Latina y el Caribe puedan aprovechar las ventajas de las cadenas globales de valor e insertarse exitosamente en la economía internacional.

Mucho se ha hecho ya al respecto. Por ejemplo, el BID modernizó cerca de 400 kilómetros del Corredor Pacífico, con inversiones que totalizaron 1500 millones de dólares. Las inversiones también se dirigieron a modernizar puertos y aeropuertos. No hay dudas de que la expansión del Canal de Panamá tendrá un impacto positivo sobre los flujos comerciales y la logística.
Menos visibles, pero igualmente importantes, son las mejoras alcanzadas en la infraestructura blanda del comercio: la armonización de las leyes y reglamentaciones y la racionalización de los procesos de facilitación del comercio. Por ejemplo, en el 2011, la empresa de Martínez tenía que remitir, en papel, decenas de documentos de importación y licencias sanitarias a diversos organismos gubernamentales. Posteriormente, Martínez tenía que esperar varias semanas para poder emprender concretamente su recorrido. En cambio, en la actualidad, gracias a la implementación del programa de Ventanilla Única de Comercio Exterior en El Salvador y Costa Rica, la empresa de Martínez puede enviar gran parte de la documentación electrónicamente y por adelantado. Esto le ayuda a reducir las tardanzas y los costos previos a su partida.

Entonces, ¿por qué se sigue demorando cinco días en la frontera? Porque los permisos sanitarios de la carga de arroz todavía no forman parte de la Ventanilla Única.

Los países que simultáneamente mejoran la infraestructura fronteriza y simplifican los procedimientos aduaneros impulsan sus niveles de comercio el doble que si obtuvieran cada mejora por separado. Es importante resaltar este aspecto, porque mayores niveles de comercio implican mayores niveles de empleo, de recaudación y, en definitiva, de desarrollo económico. La infraestructura física consume alrededor del 70 % de los recursos utilizados para modernizar los pasos fronterizos, pero es responsable de apenas una cuarta parte de las demoras. Por otro lado, los trámites causan las tres cuartas partes de dichas demoras y no necesitan inversiones financieras tan cuantiosas. De hecho, la combinación de infraestructura blanda y dura requiere una asociación muy importante entre la tecnología y la conectividad.

Recientemente visitamos una Torre de Control Logístico en el Silicon Valley. Es un centro de información privado que brinda datos en tiempo real sobre la localización física de los contenedores, en el país y entre países. Mejora la planificación y la resolución de problemas a nivel de la empresa comercializadora. Imaginemos ahora qué pasaría si pudiéramos tener una torre de control logístico, por ejemplo, en la cadena de valor de los alimentos procesados, que utiliza envases de vidrio para sus productos.

En Centroamérica, uno puede obtener botellas de vidrio de México, Costa Rica o China a través del Canal de Panamá. Una torre de control logístico en Panamá, por ejemplo, informaría en tiempo real si hay un problema con los envases en el Canal o en el paso fronterizo en Costa Rica. La empresa comercializadora podría inmediatamente decidir abastecerse de los envases desde México, por ejemplo, para evitar las demoras y mantener los costos bajo control. Adicionalmente, el camión y los contenedores de Martínez podrían estar equipados con tecnologías de rastreo que envíen datos al centro principal de información. Los pasos fronterizos estarían interconectados y los funcionarios de las aduanas podrían saber, con anticipación, qué hay dentro del camión y si cuenta con los permisos sanitarios exigibles, las licencias, los pagos, etc. La información necesaria para facilitar la planificación logística y la resolución de problemas estaría disponible para todas las partes interesadas de los sectores público y privado.

La tecnología, la infraestructura dura moderna y los procesos racionalizados —sumados a un alto nivel de conectividad— tienen el máximo potencial para mejorar el comercio y reducir los costos de la logística.

Nos pueden ayudar a resolver los atascos en los pasos fronterizos. Martínez podría conducir a 60 kilómetros por hora y llegar a destino al cabo de dos días, en vez de ocho. No solo transportaría vegetales de un país a otro; sería, de hecho, parte de una cadena de valor regional mucho más amplia.

La tecnología ya está aquí. Necesitamos aprovecharla al máximo y transformar a la región en un verdadero actor central del comercio mundial.


Esta columna fue originalmente publicada en el blog Integración y Comercio del Banco Interamericano de Desarrollo BID.

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