Transport in Argentina: Special logistical features in the country of diversity

Argentina is a fascinating country and is characterized by its natural and cultural diversity. Covering an area measuring almost 2.8 million square kilometers, Argentina extends from the Andes Mountains in the west to the Atlantic coast in the east. The size and geographical diversity of the country automatically create unique logistical challenges, which are very different from the circumstances in other parts of the earth like Europe, for example, and require careful management for transport and logistics operations.

Purmamarca Jujuy Argentina, Aerial View of Seven Colors

Special geographical features for transport operations through Argentina

The logistical challenges in Argentina are so wide-ranging, just like the varied landscape that extends for a distance measuring almost 3,700 kilometers. Argentina consists of five geographical zones – and they could not be more different from each other. The landscape in the north east alternates between hilly and marshy country and even has deep green rain forests and includes, for instance, the dry forest of Gran Chaco or the Iguazú waterfalls. The Andes Mountains, one of the largest mountain chains in the world, are located in the west and are followed by the flat pampa plains, which form the center of the country where 90% of the country’s farming takes place. Patagonia, an enormous region measuring almost 766,000 km2 and with a low population density, is located south of Buenos Aires, while the extreme south is home to the Tierra del Fuego with its rugged cliffs and high glaciers. This geographical diversity creates enormous challenges for all kinds of transport operations. Whether using air or ocean freight in Argentina or road and railroad services – how exactly do goods in the country of diversity move from A to B nowadays?

Aerial view of Lago Nahuel Huapi, Argentina

Argentina’s infrastructure: How goods safely move from A (the Andes) to B (Buenos Aires)

In addition to the diverse natural surroundings, Argentina’s transport infrastructure is just as varied and extensive, and it is extremely important for the economic development of the country. The road network is responsible for handling most of the (truck) transport services and passenger traffic too. Remarkably, 90% of all transport services are therefore provided within Argentina on 240,000 kilometers of roads, 40,000 kilometers of which are actually covered by asphalt. Does this sound like a bumpy ride? Argentinians view this as a welcome challenge because about 9.2 million vehicles were registered along the road network in 2023, most of them on the main transport highways, the National Route 9 and the National Route 41.

Railroad transportation in Argentina, however, does not represent a real alternative: the railroad network may extend for almost 37,000 kilometers, but most of it is outdated or is not in use. As a result, railroad traffic only accounts for 4% of the total volume of freight – and the transit speed is on average between 12 and 15 km/h2. The diverse natural surroundings in Argentina, however, are also home to remote areas, which are hard to reach, particularly during the winter months because of snowfall or road closures. It is therefore necessary to be well prepared for transport in Argentina in order to be able to cope with all kinds of challenges.

Ocean freight in Argentina: The key to international trade

The capital, Buenos Aires, is Argentina’s main transshipment point and the trading area for a wide variety of goods, most of which are handled through the port of Buenos Aires. It is the most important handling center for containers in Argentina and serves as the central hub for international trade. Alongside Buenos Aires, the ports of Rosario, Ushuaia and Bahía Blanca are also key centers for international trade and transport in Argentina. These three are the main hubs for exports from and imports into the country. Agricultural products like soy, maize, peanuts, fruits, wheat and animal protein are exported in containers through them and the same items are used to import industrial and consumer goods and chemicals. The ports of Buenos Aires and Rosario are mainly used for imports – and the road and river networks are available to transport the items further inland.

The status of ocean freight in Argentina as the strongest sector in international trade is largely explained by the country’s extended coastline and by networking domestic transportation along the country’s major rivers. Most of Argentina’s agricultural products are transported in containers along the Río Paraná and the Río Uruguay, so that the rivers create an important connection between the agricultural production areas located in the interior of the country and the ports.    

Air freight in Argentina: Rapid transport for high-value and perishable goods

Air traffic in Argentina represents another important element for international transport and trade. Argentina has more than 1,000 airports, 40 of which are operated commercially. The Ministro Pistarini International Airport in Buenos Aires is the most important in the country and is the main hub for air freight shipments. The proportion of air freight in Argentina’s imports is relatively low when compared to ocean freight, as the volume of imports using ocean freight in Argentina is higher than 90%3. High-value, perishable, or urgently needed goods are normally imported using air freight, while all other goods are supplied by ocean freight. When deciding whether to use air or ocean freight, time is therefore the critical factor. However, regardless of the means of transport used to ship the goods, complex customs tariffs and regulations exist in Argentina and have direct effects on the country’s exports and imports.

Customs in Argentina: What needs to be considered when importing into or exporting from the land of diversity

The customs regulations for transport in Argentina are complex and are subject to frequent changes. There are numerous restrictions on imports, including import licenses and permits in order to prevent the outflow of US dollars from the Central Bank. Argentina’s exports are currently restricted by the export ban imposed on Argentinian beef, for example. The government adopts and cancels this measure at irregular intervals in order to stabilize availability and the prices in the national market. Certain essential products are also currently exempt from sales and income tax4. They involve foods, personal hygiene products, drinks and cleaning agents in order to combat inflation in the country. 

Sunset at Puerto Nuovo harbour in Buenos Aires, Argentina

Argentina has carved out a position for itself as one of the strongest players in the import and export markets because of its proximity to other Latin American countries and through economic agreements like the international economic trade bloc, Mercosur. Ultimately, the Argentinian customs tariff system is also based on the so-called Mercosur foreign tariffs, although the tariffs vary markedly, depending on the product and country of origin. Export tariffs may be as high as 33% when it comes to agricultural products like cereals and oil seeds. The import tariffs also fluctuate significantly and can be as high as 35%, particularly for goods that are not viewed as essential or worth protecting for domestic industry, like knitted goods or furniture items, for instance5. Despite the varying customs tariffs, Argentina is a very attractive trading partner and registered a foreign trade volume of US$141 billion in 2023. Exports of agricultural products like soy or maize at US$77 billion accounted for the lion’s share of the total figure6. Argentina is a lucrative trading partner, particularly for countries that have a strong machine and equipment industry or automobile industry. Machines, equipment parts and automobile components are easily the most important goods imported into this Latin American country.

Trade in Latin America: Transport from Argentina to its neighboring countries

Argentina maintains strong trading relations with its neighboring countries, especially with Chile. The cross-border traffic represents an additional challenge because of the special geographical features like the Andes Mountains – one of the highest mountain chains in the world – and differences in the infrastructure as well as trading and transport regulations in both countries. The Paso de los Libertadores, an important border crossing in the Andes, is often affected by snow and poor weather, for example, and this can have a negative effect on the movement of goods. To cope with these challenges, logistics experts operating in the region must particularly specialize in handling these unique cross-border transport services in order to be able to respond to any adverse effects in transportation in a flexible way.

Alongside Chile as a direct neighboring country, other members of Mercosur, like Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, are important trading partners for Argentina within Latin America. Brazil is Argentina’s largest trading and most important commerical partner, and bilateral trade reached a figure of approximately US$20 billion in 2023. Argentina’s main export goods to Brazil are agricultural products, industrial goods as well as machines and vehicles. Agricultural products and industrial goods also dominate trade between Uruguay and Argentina and between Paraguay and Argentina. The geographical proximity of these countries facilitates shorter and more efficient transport routes – and this, in turn, further reinforces trade relations. The total value of trade between Argentina and its Mercosur partners amounted to approximately US$35 billion in 2023 and this underlines the significance of these economic ties7. These strong trading relations and Argentina’s strategic geographical position make it possible for corporations to transport goods within Latin America efficiently and lucratively.

Cono de Arita, Argentina

Coping with varied natural surroundings and special logistical features, taking Argentina as an example

Transport in Argentina creates a number of challenges because of the special geographical, economic and political features in the country. The natural topography requires a varied transport system, for example, which includes air and ocean freight as well as road and railroad transport services. The complex customs regulations and tariffs also call for an experienced, local contact partner. It is therefore helpful to have an experienced logistics specialist at your side for transport operations to and from Argentina and within the country. Logistics specialists like Rhenus in Argentina make an important contribution towards coping with these logistical challenges by providing extensive transport and logistics services in Argentina and Latin America. By using these extensive Rhenus services in Argentina, corporations can make optimum use of the country’s potential - and therefore also of Latin America - and organize their logistics processes to make them efficient and reliable.

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