SAO PAULO, June 5 (Reuters) - Brazil is seeking immediate help from U.S. and other foreign companies to perform $1.5 billion worth of dredging and other improvements at seaports, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx told Reuters.
The initiative is a hopeful sign that Brazil will speed up the improvement of its notoriously clogged and inefficient ports, which complicate its exports of soybeans, iron ore and other commodities.
Foxx was in Brazil last week and saw firsthand the country's infrastructure bottlenecks as he got stuck in Sao Paulo's rush-hour traffic on a Friday night. "I brought reading material," he quipped.
Under President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil has sought to boost the role of foreign companies as part of a 10-year, $880 billion infrastructure-improvement drive that will include public-private partnerships and concessions.
"Both of our countries have more demand for infrastructure than there is public resources," Foxx said last Friday. "There's an awful lot of private capital parked on the sidelines. The conversation focused on how we can shift that."
Brazilian officials showed particularly high interest in U.S. companies helping with dredging, Foxx said.
Oak Brook, Illinois-based Great Lakes Dredge and Dock , Quincy, Massachusetts-based Cashman Dredging, and Cranford, New Jersey-based Weeks Marine Inc, are three of the biggest U.S. dredging contractors.
According to a fact sheet provided by the U.S. embassy in Brasilia, Brazil plans to spend about $384 million on dredging in 2014 and a further $1.1 billion in related maintenance over the next 10 years.
The list of upcoming dredging tenders includes Santos, the country's biggest port by value of goods shipped. At Santos, a multimillion-dollar dredging effort over the last decade has faced repeated delays and other problems that have prevented some of the world's larger and more efficient new vessels from calling at the port.
Smaller or more lightly loaded ships can increase the cost of each unit shipped. Brazil's high transportation costs are a key factor in reducing the country's trade competitiveness.
Other ports to be dredged include Rio de Janeiro, Mucuripe, Suape, Recife and Niteroi. Rio de Janeiro is the center of Brazil's offshore oil industry. Niteroi, across the bay from Rio de Janeiro, is becoming a shipbuilding center.
Foxx said Brazil was also interested in U.S. technology that would make paving roads cheaper. A new "warm-mix asphalt" used in the United States requires less heat to make, lowering energy costs during production by an estimated 23 percent.
Foxx said he detected no residual tensions related to last year's revelations of U.S. spying on Brazil's government, which caused Rousseff to cancel a visit to Washington.
"I saw no indication of any hiccups in the relationship," Foxx said. "We have too much interest, too much going on between our private sectors."
(Reporting by Brian Winter; Editing by Jeb Blount and Jonathan Oatis)