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More to this matter of a logistics hub

Mike Henry

Sunday, January 06, 2013    

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I noted with great interest the article by Mark Wignall in The Agenda on Sunday, December 23, 2012, titled 'Jamaica needs real development, not mere breathing space'.

The article echoed so much of the Integrated Multimodal Plan that I left behind at the Ministry of Transport and Works, and which was presented to Parliament in May 2011 in a structured and printed form that anyone can avail from the ministry.

What I found virtually missing from the Wignall article, however, and mentioned only as modes of transportation, were details of air and rail service, without which any logistics connectivity for speed of delivery will be short-lived.

I am also hoping that in terms of the multimodal transport focus of the Government, that we do not confine ourselves to serving only North America. The realities are — as my upcoming book will outline in detail — that our present airports cannot accommodate the large aircraft that will be required to meet the 'just-in-time' world that exists today, as neither the Anatov (the largest cargo plane) nor the A380 can be accommodated at either major international airport fully loaded, as these airports were never built for that purpose, and do not allow for this accommodation in the future (any expansion of the Norman Manley International Airport would affect the development of the Port of Kingston, and the Sangster Airport is land-locked).

Also, tying ourselves to only cargo logistics and not the aerospace industry would be shortsighted. I say this to say that without Vernamfield, the planned logistics hub will be limited in its economic scope; yet this has not been mentioned by Trade and Investment Minister Anthony Hylton.

Is it because the Vernamfield development still lies within the transport portfolio? If so, then the prime minister should take action and adopt it as the best option for a pronounced political legacy, and take the whole project under her wings.

In terms of the rail and the port aspects of the multimodal plan, the failure of the last Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) Government was in not taking the whole concept and 'run wid it'. Instead, we left it in a divided state and have lost two years, while others are catching up on us as a country, including the USA, especially in Miami.

In the case of Singapore as a model for economic development, let me remind us all that that country is a city state that was built up through dredging and creating land, along with controlled population development. That represented odds that Jamaica does not face in any significant way.

Our challenge here is to start almost from scratch and develop a cross-country connectivity, which is where the railway comes in, as it covers and connects 11 of our 14 parishes. Coupled with this is the need for us, over the next five years, to bring our labour force into the modern world. That is what the aerospace college is about, as also the expansion of the Caribbean Maritime Institute (CMI).

And in our connectivity to the world, our two main areas of focus for the next 50 years have to be Africa and South and Central America, which is where the importance of Vernamfield again comes in.

This also brings into focus the need to capitalise on the Open Skies agreements to fly from places like the Far East to this side of the world via Africa, to reduce in-transit time for goods and people, and effectively connect to the future economic growth of the world. Jamaica already has four Open Skies agreements with Far and Middle Eastern countries, and four with African countries.

As transport minister, I was cautious about the concept of establishing a dry dock, this for two reasons, which Dr Lloyd Cole, the leading proponent for the development locally, has been aware of. One related to the environmental temperament of the area that has been proposed, and the time the relevant studies would take. Two, the fact that most of the ships being built that would be sailing in our area would be mega vessels, entirely new vessels of enormous size, and other countries within the region are ahead of us with dry dock plans.

Bear in mind that we were not ready with the expansion of our own port, which needed a Government investment of US$150 million, which required the approval of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which remains a challenge. This was unless, like I hoped to pursue, the cost was tied to the investors' input, which could have sovereignty issues.

The present reality, which the prime minister should grab hold of, is that we are moving too slow on all fronts, and by whatever name we wish to call it, we must move apace with the multimodal or logistics centre (which is only a by-product of the main development).

Our other main port facility, Port Esquivel, should be primarily an energy port (and why not a small nuclear power plant there or, alternatively, Goat Island?), which could be established as we proceed with the overall port developments, as was planned; that is, the expansion of facilities in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios for tourism and cargo transfers, to compliment what we did in Falmouth; and later on, to the eastern end of the island, for which detailed, embryonic plans are in the ministry (East Coast Highway).

It is encouraging that significant public discussion is now under way in support of the plans that I fostered so stridently in Government, even with less than enthusiastic support from my own party at times. Although not at the helm of state power from a governmental standpoint, I am happy that the multimodal plan is both alive and kicking, to the point of it being recognised as I have described it for a few years, as "the country's only way out of the (prevailing) quagmire of economic depression".

It is certainly never too late to be found to have been right all along.

Mike Henry was the minister of transport in the previous Jamaica Labour Party Government

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