Poor options for road and rail transportation in Central America mean that no seaport is likely to serve a significant part of the region, as Rotterdam serves much of Europe.
But new investments in Costa Rica and Honduras, both on the Caribbean coast and both scheduled to start operations next year, could result in effective sub-regional options.
In Honduras, Operadora Portuaria Centroamericana last January signed a contract with China Harbour Engineering Company for construction of a container and cargo terminal in Puerto Cortes, including a 350 meter dock with a draught of 15.5 meters, and two post-panamax cranes.
Operadora Portuaria Centroamericana, which in 2013 was awarded a 30-year concession for the terminal, is a unit of Philippines-based International Container Terminal Services Inc., with 60 ports on four continents.
Efficient facilities could help increase the volume of shipments between various parts of Central America and, Puerto Cortes, which is only some 100 kilometers farther from Guatemala City than Puerto Barrios, Guatemala's main Caribbean port.
Puerto Cortes currently gets 10% of its traffic from El Salvador, and 5% from Nicaragua.
In Costa Rica, Netherlands-based APM Terminals will operate a $1 billion facility near the city of Limón.
The world’s leading container-port operator, with 192 terminals on five continents, APM is a subsidiary of Denmark-based Maersk Group, which operates the world’s biggest container-ship fleet.
Almost all traffic moving through Limón is local.
However, the combination of a new port and a new road to Costa Rica’s northern border is expected to attract increased traffic from Nicaragua, which currently represents around 5% of total volume.
With the new road, Limón would be little more than 500 kilometers from Managua, compared to nearly 700 kilometers between Managua and Puerto Cortes.
Agricultural exports from northern Panama could also help increase port traffic in Limón.