Argentina's Terminal Zárate is reported to be facing significant import congestion, with 17,000 vehicles clogging its parking area and seven vessels awaiting discharge.

Although the automotive sector was designated a growth area by the country's president, it continues to generate problems. At the beginning of the year, sales fell and there were cuts in production, as well as diminishing exports. In addition, recently introduced excessive bureaucratic measures have also made it difficult to import finished vehicles into the country.

National business secretary, Guillermo Moreno, has made it virtually impossible to import finished vehicles from countries outside the Mercosur trading block. However, orders placed before these measures came into effect have resulted in around 30,000 finished vehicles being held in the customs area of the port of Zárate, with others on board inbound ships.

Alexander van Thillo, Terminal Zárate’s commercial manager, noted recently that there were 17,000 vehicles packed into 230,000-square metre space awaiting clearance. This is the main storage area for imported vehicles and is effectively full. A further seven vessels are waiting to unload 10,000-15,000 more cars, he added. Virtually every manufacturer trading in Argentina makes use of the terminal.

Agents for local manufacturers say they still have some stock available for sale but if the situation in the ports does not improve rapidly this will begin to have a negative impact on sales. Customs officers at the port acknowledge that clearing units "is very slow", although declined to give reasons.

Those vessels wanting to discharge vehicles are the same vessels that are also handling exports, which will also be negatively impacted by the go-slow introduced by the customs authorities. Indeed, Argentine production plants have been gearing up to produce export vehicles. Around 16.6% of total production is shipped abroad by sea and the rest by road, mostly to Brazil.

Argentina is increasingly eyeing sales in Europe and Mexico as a means of reducing its dependence on the Brazilian market.