Investors, exporters urged to take advantage of massive global market

Observer business reporter

Friday, June 26, 2020

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As the country seeks to expand its investment opportunities, stronger calls are being made for investors and exporters to take advantage of the emerging benefits in the value-added limestone industry.

According to Fiona Hyman, partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), the current global market for limestone is estimated at about US$1 billion in raw aggregate and some US$12.5 billion in value-added products.

“This is expected to increase by 2.2 per cent each year up to 2024,” she said during a webinar staged by Jamaica Promotions Corporation (Jampro) on Wednesday.

Referencing the findings from a year-long study commissioned by Jampro and the Mining and Geology Division in the Ministry of Transport, Works and Mining, Hyman said the local industry is ripe with untapped opportunities. She pointed to global trends which show Asia leading the industry with major exports coming from the United Arab Emirates, India, and Vietnam.

“Jamaica's export of limestone have been growing. Right now we are producing about 3.4 million tonnes of limestone and of that amount only 179,000 tonnes is exported. There is huge potential to grow,” said Hyman.

“What is exported at the moment represents the low value-added products, primarily aggregate and marl. From that we only earn about US$4 million. The market for value-added products in the Americas alone is over US$400 million hence there is scope for Jamaica to grow,” she said.

Hyman further revealed that of the 150 operators now in the industry, only four, at most, are exporting while 15 account for about 93 per cent of the total production.

With 50 billion tonnes of the five classes of limestone available for extraction and manufacturing, Jampro believes that the island can benefit from the development of the industry one that will include not only the use of the raw material for construction, but for the use of high purity calcium carbonate in the manufacture of products for pharmaceutical, agricultural, food, chemical, and metallurgical purposes.

President of Jampro Diane Edwards, weighing in on the discussion, said that given the growing potential of this industry “we really have a sleeping export opportunity”.

“Jamaica is probably more known as an exporter of bauxite, but there is more limestone than bauxite. Our limestone resources is estimated at 150 billion tonnes of which 50 billion is recoverable. There are real linkage opportunities locally for us to develop value-added products,” she stated.

Edwards mentioned a recent mission to Pennsylvania in the United States where a group of interested parties were taken to observe the plant operations of a company that manufactures cultured marble.

Cultured marble is one of the five major classes of limestone value-added products which is integral to the construction sector in the making of bathroom products. The others include ground calcium carbonate, precipitated calcium carbonate, quicklime, slaked lime, and hydraulic lime and dimension stone.

“We have a lot of hotels being built in Jamaica, we have apartment buildings, we have homes — so why are we not developing the manufacturing capability? Develop more cultured marble using our limestone and feed into that construction industry which is quite vibrant in Jamaica,” Edwards said.

She said with markets and key products being identified, her agency has been working to attract key investment projects for increasing exports and boosting output.

“Right now we are working with a potential importer in the Texas area who is interested in aggregate [at the moment] but who is also interested in looking at value-added products. We are not so much about export of aggregate which we have been doing — we really want to look at how we can improve our value-added processing of this great mineral,” she said.

The Jampro president said that with slight increases in export and production seen over the last 10 years, the country is still nowhere near its full potential in this industry. Indicating that there are several factors which set Jamaica apart chief among them location [centrally positioned between North and South America], a developed special economic zone and quality high-grade deposits [95-98 per cent pure calcium carbonate for processing] Edwards urged more interested parties to get on board. She also noted that the recent tabling of the mineral policy in Parliament signals better hope for properly developing, regulating and fully tapping into this lucrative industry.

“The expertise is there, the knowledge base is there, but we need the companies locally to seize the opportunity and get into this business. We see the potential for limestone to become a full-fledged industry, and we believe that if it is managed properly, Jamaicans will have excellent wealth creation opportunities in this sector,” she said.

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