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Jamaica Plots Economic Transformation through Logistics Hub

Half a century ago Robert Lightbourne, Jamaica’s then Minister of Industry, dreamed of a deepwater port being established at Yallahs, St. Thomas, approximately 25 miles miles east of the capital city, Kingston.

Today, Anthony Hylton, one of Lightbourne’s successors in that portfolio, is vowing to bring his 1960s vision to reality and expand its ultimate impact. He sees the 51 metre deep harbour at Cow Bay, Yallahs as the ideal location for creating a commodities port. This would be part of an island-wide logistics hub that the Jamaican government is planning to establish, repositioning the island as an attractive investment point, given its strategic geographical location along an important global trading route.

Citing Cow Bay as “one of the deepest ports in the Western Hemisphere” Hylton, Minister of Industry, Investment & Commerce in the Jamaican Cabinet, believes it is ideally located and suited to accommodate the largest cargo ships in the world, some of which will not be able to transit even the expanded Panama Canal.

“Because those ships carrying bulk commodity are so large they will have to come either through the Suez Canal coming through Europe into the Caribbean or around the southern tip of South America through the Cape and into the Caribbean” he explained when we sat down to an interview in his New Kingston office.

Cow Bay, he reasons, would provide significant storage capacity in Jamaica, servicing transshipment needs throughout the Americas, “particularly the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.”

The Jamaican government led by Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller is pursuing a medium term economic development strategy which, by 2015; coinciding with the completion of the Panama Canal expansion, should see this Northern Caribbean nation far advanced in the creation of a cohesive logistics hub. It plans to link the existing (upgraded) airports and seaports and a number of new facilities to create a seamless point of transition for the goods and services of the world.

Cow Bay has become a sort of metaphor for the Jamaican government’s aspirations to finally deliver on many of the dreams deferred over the country’s 50 years of political Independence, celebrated on August 6, 2012. It is just one of several new projects; others being an air cargo and passenger airport at Vernamfield in Clarendon, approximately 50 miles west of Kingston on the southern plains, a dry dock at Jackson Bay, also in the parish of Clarendon and the Caymanas Economic Zone, just on the western outskirts of Kingston.

Caymanas

The Caymanas Economic Zone is the first of the new developments expected to commence, with the minister projecting that construction will begin in the first quarter of 2013.

Factories Corporation of Jamaica; a state agency, already controls 200 acres of the former sugar estate which will be converted into spaces for light manufacturing and assembly, warehouses, call centres and various other support services. Additional lands will be acquired as demand for space grows, he said.

This project, announced by the previous Jamaica Labour Party administration, has been marketed aggressively to Chinese business interests, and with good reason, according to the current minister.

“If you look at the role that the Panama Canal will play in the movement of goods produced in China, you will see why the Chinese, in furtherance of their own self interest, will want to ensure that they have a significant presence in Jamaica” he argues.

The Chinese company, China Harbour Engineering Company Limited (CHEC), is already deeply involved in important infrastructure improvement projects in Jamaica. It is near completion of the Palisadoes Shoreline Rehabilitation Work; significantly upgrading the main road linking the capital city to its airport – Norman Manley International – close to the historic town of Port Royal, located on a thin peninsular. It will also be investing US$720 million in the North-South component of Highway 2000, which will make transit of people and goods from the northern and western end of the island to the capital city significantly easier and less costly.

Similar Chinese interest is being shown in plans to dredge Kingston Harbour and expand the Port of Kingston at Gordon Cay and into Fort Augusta.

Hylton was quick to assert however that interest in the Caymanas project was not confined to the Chinese, with the Japanese, Middle Easterners, Americans, Canadians and South Americans also showing keen interest.

The Japanese interest he said had been sparked by the lessons learned from the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit that nation in 2011, severely disrupting its automobile industry. The Japanese he said had recognized “that they had too much of their assets in Japan and not sufficiently positioned around the world, particularly close to their markets and there has been an expression of interest in using Jamaica as an assembly point.”

Vernamfield

Vernamfield, established as an air base by the United States in the 1940s during the Second World War, was decommissioned shortly after the war ended and its glory days are but a dim memory today, choked by the weeds encroaching on its runways.

 Now there’s increasing talk of a resurrection of Vernamfield as the air cargo component of the logistics hub, complementing the services that will be provided by the upgraded Port of Kingston and eventually, the Cow Bay commodities port.

Its expansive space is also being eyed as an attractive alternative to Kingston’s Norman Manley International Airport for further airlift expansion, given Norman Manley’s runway constraints, confined as it is to the narrow Palisadoes peninsular and ringed by the Caribbean Sea.

There was even the possibility of an aircraft assembly plant being established at Vernamfield, Anthony Hylton added, his eyes lighting up as he contemplated the take off of this and the other dream projects in his portfolio of investment possibilities for the Jamaican economy.

By Earl Moxam, Special Assignments Editor

 

 

 

 



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