The Organization of American States’ (OAS) involvement with port related issues began in the 1950’s through what was then known as the Inter-American Port Conference. At the time, the Member Countries visualized the creation of an Inter-American organism specialized in port area concerns. This organism would deal with port sector development issues, analyze the obstacles to such development, and propose possible solutions. At the same time, such an organization would reinforce hemispheric port cooperation.
The Creation of the Inter-American Port Conference (CIP)
After World War II, the expansion of port infrastructure in the region depended chiefly on public work funds, and government-controlled investments. Port sector administration and planning was run by government dependencies dealing with transport and/or infrastructure. In some continental forums, dialogs geared towards the simplification of complicated and inefficient port-related paperwork and procedures were initiated. At the time, it was pointed out that nearly 50 percent of the total cost involved with maritime shipping corresponded to administrative paperwork and other port expenditures. It was considered necessary to attack the problems generated in the ports of the States of this hemisphere, using as an example the experiences of countries with high levels of efficiency, and therefore, lower operation costs. Out of this environment came a relatively autonomous organization comprised of state-owned port companies. This new organization was to substitute the poorly managed government-controlled port administrations. During the 1960’s a new port reality began to develop in the Americas. There appeared new state-run port institutions which were autonomous, and specialized. These organizations were left in charge of port sector operations and investment planning. Such organizations, however, proved relatively monopolistic in nature.
Since its inception, the OAS had included maritime port topics on the agendas of its meetings, making it one of the first international organizations to recognize the necessity to better the ports of the hemisphere. Likewise, the first proposal focusing on providing more attention to the port sector and to the creation of a Specialized Conference dedicated exclusively to the issue was initiated by the Economic and Social Inter-American Council (CIES). At the Extraordinary Meeting of the CIES (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 1954), the creation of the Inter-American Port Conference, based on the OAS Charter, was agreed upon. Two years later, the first Inter-American Port Conference was held in San Jose, Costa Rica.
From the 1950s to the 1960s, to provide for the steady transformation of the port systems and to create a starting point for regional port cooperation, the OAS Inter-American Port Conferences focused on the creation of a governmental hemispheric forum for port related dialog. This initiative reached a high point with the development of an Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) and American Association of Port Authorities (AAPA) supported workplace training program called "Puertos Amigos". The simplification of documentation and port-related paperwork dominated this initial era of port development.
The Modernization of the Western Hemisphere’s Ports
During the 1970s, the port organizations of the Americas continued to progress. The creation and use of big tankers and container vessels forced the transformation of port infrastructure and facilities. Important investments were needed to meet the requirements of a new kind of maritime transportation. In the 1980s, countries began to realize that the quality of state provided port services did not meet international standards, and that port infrastructure and facilities were greatly behind those maintained by industrialized nations. In particular, substantial reforms were made in the area of port organization. These reforms were brought about by state port institutions, which took new steps towards the involvement of the private sector in port management. Alongside government-run ports, there now appeared the private sector. New regional and municipal regimes were formed. In many cases, the port authority was able to delegate to private enterprises much of the control of day-to-day tasks. This allowed for the transformation of the state’s role in the port sector. With the presence of private port service providers came the creation of a new field of government port responsibility; a field that focused on the handling of more global issues.
Throughout the 1990s, the region started to experience very positive changes. In 1993, a vigorous modernization of the port community was initiated. For this reason, the Eighth Inter-American Port Conference (1993) proposed the reactivation of the original government-formed forum, taking into account the new interests of the countries, including the topic of the role of the private sector in ports, the adoption of information systems, and on-the-job training. To this effect, the work of the Inter-American Port Conference was reorganized so as to assign different tasks to each of the participating countries. Along with new internal organization came two important international agreements: "La Declaración de Asunción" (The Asuncion Declaration), which deals with inter-American port policy guidelines, and "The Agreement on Cooperation and Mutual Assistance among the Inter-American Port Authorities". Both treaties were established during the IX Inter-American Port Conference, held in 1996 in Asuncion, Paraguay.
The Inter-American Port Conference becomes the Inter-American Committee on Ports
With the emergence of a new international panorama with such diverse characteristics, the OAS port forum could not remain a strictly governmental organism. It was therefore necessary to include new private-sector elements that were quickly emerging as principal actors in the hemisphere’s port sector. In 1996 the IX Inter-American Port Conference approved a resolution whereby the Conference petitioned the General Assembly of the OAS to upgrade the classification of the port forum from "Port Conference" to "Port Committee". This new classification would allow the forum greater technical, financial, and decision-making autonomy. The proposal was initially approved by the Inter-American Council for Integral Development (CIDI), during their Second Meeting (Mexico, 1998); and authorization from the OAS General Assembly came during its 27th session (Peru, 1998). Thus the Inter-American Committee on Ports (CIP), was created.
During the existence of the Inter-American Port Conference, the General Secretaries of the OAS were: Carlos Davila, Jose Mora, Galo Plaza, Alejandro Orfila, Joao Baena Soares, and Cesar Gaviria, all of whom actively supported hemispheric port cooperation while in office. It should be noted that the present Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, is a great champion of inter-American port cooperation.
Throughout its history, the Inter-American Port Conference established important relationships, and joined efforts with many international organizations. The organization that most closely worked with the IPC was the AAPA. Other organizations which have helped to develop the port sector include: the IADB, the World Bank, the Economic Commission on Latin American and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the International Labor Organization (ILO), the Central American Commission of Maritime Transport (COCATRAM), the United Nations Conference for Trade and Development (UNCTAC), the International Maritime Organization (IMO); among others.
The Conference is credited with establishing important international cooperation programs which have benefited port sector workers as well as executives, in all OAS Member States. Such programs deal with the exchange of information, technical and professional training, direct technical assistance, among other issues. These programs yielded important benefits for all participants, and have paved the way for the birth of the present Inter-American Committee on Ports.
The Inter-American Port Conference has met nine times in ordinary sessions and once in an extraordinary meeting:
Conference I: San Jose, Costa Rica, April 25-May 3, 1956;
Conference II: Mar de Plata, Argentina, May 29-June 1963;
Extraordinary Conference: Washington D.C., April 19-20, 1966;
Conference III: Viña del Mar, Chile, November 15-23, 1968;
Conference IV: Mexico City, December 5-11, 1975;
Conference V: Guayaquil, Ecuador, November 13-17, 1978;
Conference VI: Mexico City, May 17-21, 1982;
Conference VII: Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, October 12-16 1987;
Conference VIII: San Pedro Sula, Honduras, November 8-12, 1993; and
Conference IX: Asuncion, Paraguay, September 23-27, 1996