The Government of Kerala on Friday signalled its willingness to tie up with the provincial government of Catalonia in Spain for the development of an international deepwater container transhipment terminal and port at Vizhinjam near here.

Minister for Ports M. Vijayakumar, who held discussions with Jesus del Rio Mateu, Director General, International Trade, Port of Barcelona Authority here on Friday, said the State government was open to the idea of entering into a tie-up for the development of the port. “We have agreed in principle that a Government-to-Government MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) would be the best option for the project,” he told The Hindu.

Mr. Mateu's visit to Thiruvananthapuram follows discussions initiated by Union Minister of State for External Affairs and Thiruvananthapuram MP Shashi Tharoor with the Port Authority in Barcelona.

Mr. Vijayakumar said he would follow up today's discussions with a meeting to be held in New Delhi with the Spanish Ambassador to India. “Barcelona is one of the leading ports in the world today with considerable experience in handling cargo and other facilities. They have expressed willingness to cooperate with us in infrastructure development and operations.

“The nature of the tie-up will have to be worked out after detailed discussions.”

Asked whether the MoU route would signal a new approach for the project, the Minister said it would help avoid the complexities and delay involved in the bidding process that was twice aborted following litigation.

Mr. Mateus who arrived here on Wednesday, held discussions with officials of the Vizhinjam International Seaport Limited (VISL), the special purpose vehicle constituted for the project. He also visited the project site.

Addressing a press conference earlier in the day, Mr. Mateus said the Vizhinjam project held great potential for Kerala.

He, however, said the development of a port had to be seen in the light of its long- term benefits and its potential to create wealth at the local level. A transhipment terminal, he explained, would benefit only the operators.

“A port with multiple facilities such as cruise terminal, export and import, free zone and transhipment offers better scope for long-term development.

“The Government of Kerala will have to see Vizhinjam beyond a transhipment terminal,” he said.

The port of Barcelona is about 2,000 years old. The ninth biggest terminal in Europe, it handles 23 lakh containers every year.

It also features a free trade industrial park, shopping mall, multiplex and the largest aquarium in Europe. It has trade relations with 825 ports across the world.