Some 20,000 cars are reported stranded at the Argentine port of Zárate because they lack an import licence. Port Terminal Zárate is having to bear the brunt of the problem because it is responsible for 90% of Argentina's finished vehicle import-export business.

This lack of speedily issued licences has increased the concerns of importers, who are already being adversely affected by the overall slowdown in business, which has also hit spare parts. The situation has been slammed by Miguel Ponce, director of the Chamber of Importers of Argentina (CIRA), who said that it was yet a further example of the mismanagement of foreign trade.

He noted that the problem was an ongoing one, citing the example of 30,000 units that have been stranded in the customs area of the port for over a year following the decision taken by the Secretary of State for Foreign Trade to slow down the awarding of import licences.

Previously, it took around 25 days before the necessary paperwork was put in place. However, the minister concerned, Guillermo Moreno, has extended this by a further 10 days, meaning it takes up to 35 days before a licence is issued. Some companies have reported having to wait for anything between 45 and 60 days.

The move by the government is reported to have been implemented to prevent US dollars from being taken out of the country and is part of a policy aimed at cracking down on money laundering by those citizens holding undeclared foreign currency.

"What is happening at the port of Zarate is typical of those situations in which demand is (fitfully) driving the fulfillment of contractual obligations," said Ponce.

Until recently, the automotive industry had been one of the engines of economic growth but, it is warned, the drop in revenue brought about by government policy could negatively impact on capital being available in other key industries.