Industry is monitoring bottleneck risks due to lack of qualified workers and shortage of inputs
Marco Aurelio Barcelos — Foto: Silvia Zamboni / Divulgação
The investment in federal highways in 2023 may reach R$30 billion considering federal government contributions for public works and funds injected by the private sector into roads under concession. With such a large volume of construction works after a period of stagnation due to the economic slowdown and the effects of the pandemic, the industry is monitoring bottleneck risks due to the lack of qualified workers and the shortage of inputs.
Most of the investments, almost R$20 billion, will come from the Ministry of Transportation. The National Department of Transportation Infrastructure (DNIT) has the task of hiring contractors to recover and maintain the road network it manages.
The figure includes R$11 billion that large concessionaires plan to invest this year, according to estimates by the Brazilian Association of Highway Concessionaires (ABCR). This amount, which covers highways linked to the association, exceeds the all-time high figure level 10 years ago of R$10.7 billion.
The high demand for inputs and labor force comes mainly from 17 contracts signed in the 2020-2022 period. Seven are federal concessions with a duration of 30 years with a total investment of R$48.8 billion, an important part of which is concentrated in the first years. Other 10 are public works contracts focused on dualling of roads considered strategic for the country.
ABCR President Marco Aurélio Barcelos said this is “excellent news” for the country that could mean the “peak of private-sector investment” in highways in 10 years, combined with a new “paradigm” for the Ministry of Transport’s budget, which is in a level “not seen for a long time.”
However, Mr. Barcelos believes that the current investment picture requires some reflection. “I don’t want to sound alarmist, but is the ecosystem that supports these investments ready? Perhaps we need an assessment by the public authorities and the private sector itself of the real capacity to deliver,” he said.
Concessionaires associated with the ABCR are already reporting difficulties in hiring designers and specialized consultants. To get around the problem, highway managers expect to go to the market while there is availability to secure contracts.
In an interview with Valor, Mr. Barcelos advocated that this is the moment to identify possible bottlenecks and think of “support and development measures” to overcome them. The executive mentioned that it could be the case of evaluating the need for credit lines for specific fields or bridging gaps with the public sector, at the federal and state levels, to “rationalize” the investment agenda.
“We don’t want to pull the handbrake, but we need to make this reflection: what measures can be taken to move first to avoid bottlenecks in some sectors, among service providers, to materialize?” Mr. Barcelos said.
Venilton Tadini, president of the Brazilian Association of Infrastructure and Basic Industries (Abdib), acknowledged that the risk for the highway sector has already been noticed by the association, which will hold a workshop next Friday (30) to discuss the problem with members of the government and representatives of the goods and services supply chain.
Mr. Tadini said that since last year, Abdib has been drawing the attention of officials to the impact of the increase in input prices on the economic balance of concession contracts. He recalled that the industry has paid dearly not only for asphalt products due to the high price of oil, but also for the “significant increase” in the cost of basic construction materials such as steel, cement, and sand.
For him, the organization of the world’s labor force has changed in the pandemic, creating difficulties for both industry and construction. “Brazil reached almost 14% unemployment at the peak of the pandemic. People didn’t stay at home for two years waiting to get back to the job they had. People migrated to other activities,” he said.
The president of the Brazilian Association of Industrial Engineers (Abemi), Joaquim Maia, argues that the stronger resumption of investment in some sectors of the economy must be supported by professional qualification programs. “We are talking about more than a hundred professional categories for the execution of any infrastructure project. These are professionals with various levels of expertise who are involved in the entire process, from the project to the execution of the work.”
When questioned, the Ministry of Transport said that it was “aware of all market movements” and that the resumption of investments “has consequences in the production chain.” It also pointed out that it had created a working group with Petrobras and Dnit in February to monitor the supply of asphalt.
*Por Rafael Bitencourt — Brasília
Source: Valor International