As Jamaica launches an ambitious plan to become a port of reference in a region with one of the highest levels of commercial traffic in the world, the World Bank has lauded the island for hoisting the sails to “reign in the Caribbean once more.”
The Washington-based financial institution noted that the Jamaican capital of Kingston is “almost exactly equidistant” from Miami, the final destination for over half of the region’s exports, and the Panama Canal, the main connection route between the two largest oceans, and through which travels three percent of all global maritime trade.
“It’s a privileged location which the island has been making the most of since the 17th century, when Port Royal became the most important English port in the Western hemisphere,” the bank said.
“And once the Logistics Hub Initiative (LHI) is completed, the port will be firmly back on the international trade map,” it added.
The World Bank said the plan includes improving and expanding port services; a dry dock to repair and maintain the ships; a logistics center; a new air freight facility along with expanding the current ones; along with warehouses, storage and light manufacturing facilities in Special Economic Zones.
“All of which will be connected via roads and railway lines,” the bank said.
“My vision is that we can construct a new Jamaican economy upon a platform of this Jamaica Logistics Hub Initiative,” it quoted Minister for Investment, Industry and Trade, Anthony Hylton.
According to Hylton, this large logistics center will be an “ecosystem,” home to local and international businesses and generating positive results that will be felt by the rest of the Jamaican economy.
Apart from its key location, the World Bank said Jamaica has other advantages to capitalize on with this initiative, such as its naturally deep water, suitable for deep-draft navigation, and a “highly-educated, English-speaking labor force.”
“The LHI has already managed to win over the hearts and minds of public and private entities to inject the necessary large sums of for upgraded ports, airports and other infrastructure,” the bank said.
“If the country manages to connect this logistical capacity with the development of productive activities, the initiative has the potential to generate unprecedented growth in the island,” it added.
Donovan Wignal, president of the MSME Alliance, the union for small and medium businesses in Jamaica, said “well-managed local businesses should prepare to make the most of the opportunities that this initiative will provide.” The World Bank said the initiative will also create opportunities for young people who are studying at Jamaican universities.
Until now, it said many of them migrate after finishing their studies, “precisely because of the lack of job openings.” “I hope that my degree will help me to be hired for some of the jobs which will be created once the (Logistics) operation center opens,” said Carlisle Moxam, a final year student in Chain Management and Supply Office in the Caribbean Maritime at the Institute of Kingston. “I want to improve my skills and future prospects.”
The World Bank said, obviously, Jamaicans are not the only ones working to exploit this “sea” of possibilities.
It said countries like Cuba or the Bahamas have also entered “the race – all with an eye focused on examples such as Panama and Singapore, where the logistics business represents seven and eight percent of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), respectively.”
“It’s a poker game,” Wignal said. “And we have to play well.”