Some 45 million tonnes of cargo travels annually between the South American east and west coast at the latitude that connects Buenos Aires in the east and Santiago in the west, but the barrier presented by the mighty Andes Mountains means that most of it has to be transported via expensive and time-consuming shipping routes. The only road connection is the Cristo Redentor Pass - a steep mountain road with an altitude of 3,200 m.
The Cristo Redentor Pass has become a major bottleneck. The route is closed 45 to 60 days per year by heavy snowfall. It contains 26 hairpin bends and steep inclines and it cannot be widened.
The Andes are such an obstacle that analysis of trade figures shows that some 83% of cargo transported across the Southern Cone does so by ship - with two-thirds of the rest, some 4.9 million tonnes each year, crossing the Andes via the Cristo Redentor Pass.
In recent years, there has been much debate and discussion around the improvement of transandean connections between Chile and Argentina. The basic rationale is to connect the two markets more effectively.
The favoured idea is the building of a tunnel under the Andes Mountains. The Agua Negra tunnel, as it is named, would connect the Argentinean province of San Juan with the Chilean port of Coquimbo.
The tunnel is expected to greatly improve the economic connections between Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. Both sides expect significant improvement to regional economies around Coquimbo in Chile and San Juan in Argentina. The main improvements are expected to manufacture and food production.
The tunnel would greatly facilitate Chilean access to Mercosur markets, and the access of these to Chinese products being shipped to Chilean ports. The tunnel would shorten journey times between Porto Alegre-Shanghai and Porto Alegre-US west coast by three days.
The ITF is developing a project to work with the relevant unions in the region to ensure that labour being used on the corridor is unionised and not vulnerable to ‘social dumping’ which can occur when transport corridors facilitate movement of labour from low cost labour countries to high. Learning from the problems which have become systemic in Europe the ITF seeks to implement due diligence strategy to ensure that drivers terms and conditions are upheld and a race to the bottom is not created as transport companies compete for contracts on small margins.
ITF will carry out an analysis of the comparable rates and conditions for truck drivers in the region and look at the economic employers (customers) for whom the transport operators contract for, to ensure those at the top of the supply chain also introduce standards that prevent exploitation. The ITF will work with well-established transport unions in Argentina to train union representatives to monitor the use of the tunnel and carry out inspections. Trade unions will be trained in talking to drivers at key points along the corridor, to ensure agreed standards are enforced.