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  December 5th, 2016 | Written by

Mauritania Looks to Nouadhibou Port for Brighter Future

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  • Chinese demand for iron ore has fallen.
  • UNCTAD port management program is active in 200 ports around the globe.
  • In 2014, Mauritania's government completed $18-million port extension.

Nestled on a peninsula overlooking the world’s biggest graveyard of ships, the port of Nouadhibou may hold the key to a better future for Mauritania’s 3.9 million people, of whom 42 percent live in poverty.

For years, Mauritania’s economy ran on the iron ore buried deep beneath its Sahara desert sands. But Chinese demand for iron ore has fallen, and the government is putting more hope in its Atlantic coastal waters, some of the richest fishing grounds in the world.

“Mauritania’s fishing industry could boost exports and create jobs, but its ports will need to become more competitive,” said Mark Assaf, in charge of the port management program of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), active in some 200 ports around the globe.

In 2016, Mauritania became the 34th country to join the program, aiming to promote Nouadhibou as a door to the world, through which to export its processed fish.

Foreign boats may fish in Mauritanian waters, but they currently take their catch elsewhere. Every year, some 1.2 million tons of tuna, shrimp, and other fish are caught in Mauritania’s waters, but just five percent is processed locally.

According to industry executives, landing fish in Nouadhibou, Mauritania’s only fishing port, is more expensive than in the Canary Islands nearby.

In 2013, Mauritania’s government launched the free zone of Nouadhibou to improve the port’s competitiveness and to attract fish processing industries such as tuna canning. In 2014, it completed an $18-million extension to accommodate bigger vessels.

“Upgrading a port needs new infrastructure but also investment in human resources,” said Assaf. “Ultimately, a port’s performance depends on the quality of its management.”

The UNCTAD TrainForTrade Port Management Program took a first crucial step last month when 11 senior port managers completed a workshop for instructors held at the port of Nouakchott, the Mauritanian capital.

These newly-trained instructors will deliver the first cycle of training to around 25 middle managers over the next two years, working closely with UNCTAD experts and managers from other ports in the program.

“In the port of Douala in Cameroon, a manager took what he learned from our program, reorganizing the cargo loading and unloading operations to speed the port’s work by 30 to 40 percent,” said Assaf.

According to World Bank data, delays in ports add roughly 10 percent to the cost of imported goods, more in many cases than tariffs. For exports the harm is even worse.