PRIME Minister Portia Simpson Miller has warned that undue delay in deciding on the location for the proposed logistics hub by the Chinese might see Jamaica losing out as investors look elsewhere.
"I am conscious of the fact that Jamaica needs an economic game changer to lift us out of the inertia in which we have been stuck. An opportunity lies in our ability to rapidly improve our physical infrastructure and to exploit the benefits of our strategic location. This is something we have to leverage to the maximum extent possible," Simpson Miller told yesterday's Economic Reform Programme Stakeholders Conference at the Jamaica Conference Centre in downtown Kingston.
China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) has pinpointed the Goat Islands as its first choice for the proposed development of the trans-shipment port and economic zone under the Global Logistics Hub Initiative, causing some amount of consternation about the environmental impact of such a move. The proposed investment of approximately US$1.5 billion would enable Jamaica to benefit from the anticipated increase in maritime activities from the expansion of the Panama Canal, scheduled to be completed in 2016.
However, the Government on Wednesday announced that it would not be making any decision on the development of Goat Islands until a study commissioned by the Port Authority of Jamaica on the environmental impact is completed and assessed. The study is expected to be completed this month-end.
According to the prime minister, in recognition of the restricted fiscal situation that will obtain for the near future, the country must seek ways of attracting investment.
"If we are successful in exploiting this potential we can in the short term create employment in construction and in a wide variety of activities," she said.
"But there are some things we must take into account first, whilst we may be well placed in terms of a strategic location, we are not the only country in the region interested in becoming a logistics centre and, as time is of the essence, no one is going to wait around for us," Simpson Miller warned.
She said while "these activities may have some environmental footprints" the country will have to do its "best to contain and make their impact minimal".
"If we were not strong and took the right position we would never have had the Norman Manley International Airport or the Sangster International Airport, Newport West, the National Stadium or a number of housing schemes," the prime minister told the huge gathering of business interests.
In the meantime, noting that "we need to be mindful of all of these things", she said "if we are to achieve economic growth, we need to reduce poverty, simultaneously put in good infrastructure and address major environmental issues like the disposal of sewage".
The prime minister has in the meantime "reaffirmed to both the domestic and international markets the firm commitment of the administration to steer the course in terms of the adjustment measures we have put in place [as a requirement] of the Extended Fund Facility with the International Monetary Fund".
"My administration entered into this agreement fully aware of the drastic measures which had to be taken to address the problem of our unsustainable debt to Gross Domestic Product ratio and to stabilise our balance of payment," she noted.
She said there were four immediate challenges to addressing these goals: mainly, reducing debt, achieving appreciable and sustainable economic growth and job creation, protecting the vulnerable, and providing a realistic basis for hope for those who carry the brunt of the adjustment burden.