In the past 18 months, Chile’s economy has battled a pandemic (largely successfully) and dealt with a lot of civil unrest. Christian Seydewitz, Senior Vice President Area Chile of Hapag-Lloyd sat down with us and explained the current situation in the country, what makes Chile a very successful market for reefer business, and why Chilean cherries make Chinese consumers so happy.
Chile has experienced an eventful year and a half with the pandemic but also some political challenges starting in 2019. How has the Chilean market developed?
For us at Hapag-Lloyd, COVID-19 was certainly the biggest challenge we have faced in a long time – both for the market in general and the logistics industry in particular. At the end of 2020, we can say that Chile stands out in Latin America because our exports have not been primarily affected. According to last market 2020 figures, the export market grew 2%. The Chilean government decided that logistics and shipping was part of essential services that could continue to operate even during strict lockdowns as long as they comply with COVID-19 safety regulations. As a company, we took many precautions and set up operations so they could be handled with a minimum staff at the office, maintaining safety protocol and the rest working from home. In the beginning of the pandemic, there were some issues on the logistics side, but they were quickly resolved.
Does this mean our business was not affected at all?
Let us look at one of the main export commodities in Chile: forestry. Right now, almost every person on this planet uses masks. Some of the raw material of these masks comes from the forest. Also, everyone is at home all day. People get many ideas for home improvements, redecorations, or they simply need to furnish their home office. Therefore, the export demand for wood and pulp is immense. Another big export commodity are various foodstuffs. Chile exports salmon as well as fresh and frozen meats like chicken and pork. In these areas, demand has stayed stable. In terms of imports, we experienced about five weeks during which imports decreased by about 20 percent, mainly because of the uncertainty of the retailers of the COVID-19 impact in the economy. After that, the import volumes recovered rather quickly, in particular as from August 2020, supported by government stimulus for people and two 10% pension funds withdrawal, driven and approved by the parliament, that finally all together injected over 30 billion dollars into the economy. In December 2020, you couldn’t buy a TV anywhere in Chile.
Did we see still see growth in Chile in the reefer business?
Bringing reefer equipment into Chile is one of the major challenges we have right now, considering the logistic problems we are facing as industry. Currently, we are working hard to bring non-operated reefers (NORs) to Chile.
This year, considering the extraordinary Cherry season and the recent impact of a heavy summer rain - not usual at all - the total reefer market, fresh and frozen is expected to have a one digit grow. The potential to grow is there and in particular to new potential markets like India.
What about our famous Cherry Express from Chile to China?
Since we started the Cherry Express, we are one of the main players for the cherries starting it on week 47 and finishing it on week 2. The cherry season is very challenging. The entire harvesting time is eight weeks, but 70 percent of the cargo falls into the same three-week period, were plugs capacity on the ships is the key factor. This recent 2020-21 season was an unexpected one, with a market growth of over 60%. Unfortunately, we were not able to keep that growth losing market share, limited mainly by plugs but also by containers.
How has COVID-19 affected you and your colleagues in Chile?
The country was heavily affected – and so was my family. One of my daughters just finished medical school and she worked with COVID-19 patients since March 2020. Despite we took every precaution possible, after a few months in June, we were tested COVID-19 positive. We all got it, both my daughters, my wife, and myself. Fortunately, none of us had severe symptoms. As far as Hapag-Lloyd is concerned, like the other Areas, we have been working mostly from home. It was a big change for me because I love interacting with my team. Every Wednesday I can, I usually have breakfast at the office with app 10 persons from different departments of our team. We still do this, but now it is digital through Teams. It’s a good way to stay in contact with the team, make sure everyone is doing well and get constructive feedback. We were able to keep the office partially open 3 days a week since the beginning to serve customer needs, of course under strict hygiene measures, but as from September, we started to open every day with voluntary attendance and without use of public transportation. This have being a benefit for some people who live in small apartments, or do not have a good/ stable internet access or other personal reasons, even if it is only a few days of the week.
Let’s talk a bit about the situation in Chile in general. There has been some civil unrest at the end of 2019. What happened?
In October 2019, some protests started – initially, because there was an increase in the prices for public transport in the subway. The movement grew and things escalated in November 2019. The main demands were to improve the social system; pensions, health services and public education. However, the regular Friday protests quickly turned an excuse for some people to vandalize the city. Ironically, the pandemic calmed the situation a bit. In November 2019, after a critical day of vandalism, the government gave the parliament 24 hours to agree on a way to find a solution. The final output was a general agreement to vote for a new constitution, which finally in October 2020 was vote with an overwhelming majority of 80 percent. I think it will be good to have a more modern constitution that will live up to the Chile of today and the future. I hope this will be the case.
Some economists say that Latin America will be thrown back by the pandemic by 15 to 20 years. Do you agree? How badly will Chile be affected by COVID-19 in the long term?
On my view, Chile has gotten through the pandemic better than many other countries in Latin America. Could be that we will be thrown back by about ten years economically. Once the pandemic is over, we should recover rather quickly – if the government makes the right decisions. The problem in Chile is not the macro economy – the exports and imports are at healthy levels. The micro economy is the big problem. Industries like tourism, restaurants and other services were devastated by the pandemic. It will take time for those industries to recover.
The success of recent years can be traced back to the merger with CSAV. For Hapag-Lloyd this was the moment when we really took off as a global player again. You had an active part in the merger process. What is the secret of the successful merger?
Overall, the merger was very well managed. What I appreciate the most was that there was a spirit to build a new company. Lead by Rolf Habben Jansen and everyone involved in the merger really identified the best features of each company. We took the best from CSAV, the best from Hapag-Lloyd, and later the best from UASC. Everyone was open to learn from each other. Just as an example: Look at the main systems and tools we are using today. We took the strong processes and systems from Hapag-Lloyd. We really took the best from the three companies- also when it comes to the people. The slogans of “Better together” for the merger with CSAV and “Better united” for the merger with UASC really came true. In the end, we very successfully achieved the goal of creating a new and passionate Hapag-Lloyd together. And I am very happy and proud to be a part of this.
About Christian Seydewitz
Christian Seydewitz has more than 15 years of experience in the shipping industry. Before he worked 7 years in the telecommunications industry and at the beginning as a consultant, always in sales and distribution. In August 2005 he started his shipping journey in CASV, based in Hamburg, as VP Sales & Customer Service Region Europe, then in May 2008, he took over the leadership of CSAV Region North Europe and in January 2012, he was appointed CSAV Global Operations Manager, back in Chile, until the merger with Hapag-Lloyd in December 2014, when he was appointed SVP Area Chile until now. He likes to spend his free time with his family ideally outdoor in the mountains or the lake, being close to the nature. Among his hobbies are reading, skiing and swimming.