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Pitfalls to achieving the global logistics hub

BY ANTHONY HYLTON

Sunday, August 20, 2017

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The circumstances leading to the recent withdrawal of service by the Port Trailer Haulage Association (PTHA) from the Kingston Freeport Terminal (KFTL) should serve as a reminder of the several pitfalls that face the Government, port community and the country as a whole as we strive to position Jamaica as a global logistics hub and the fourth node in the global trading system.

It also represents a failure on the part of key stakeholders to act in a timely manner to avoid this major upheaval in an industry that has experienced calm in its industrial relations for nearly 50 years. This peaceful history on the waterfront is a major selling point for the Government and stakeholders in their attempt to attract investments, both foreign and local, to develop the port to the world-class standard that is implied in Jamaica becoming a global logistics hub.

It bears reminding that some of the opportunities that Jamaica and the region now have in becoming major players in the global shipping industry are due in no small part to the continued unrest and fracturing of industrial relations on the west coast ports in the United States of America.

Instability is greatly disliked by the global shipping community and, therefore, cannot and should not be allowed to become a feature of Jamaica's port industrial relations. The consequences for us will be dire!

So the question arises as to how this simmering frustration among the port haulage contractors and KFTL was allowed to escalate into industrial action being taken. The reports coming from the haulage contractors, if correct, point to several meetings held between the parties and commitments given to address the conditions complained of, which centre on the slow turnaround time for truckers delivering or collecting cargo at the terminal.

The situation, it seems, is in part the result of the implementation of new technology which, ironically, is intended to improve efficiency at the port, including improvement in turnaround time of trucks. It appears that the transition from old technology to new is not going as smoothly as planned. What then are the relative roles and responsibilities of the key stakeholders in this port community — ie the Port Authority of Jamaica, the Terminal Operators, Jamaica Customs, Shipping Association, Jamaica Exporters' Association, Jamaica Manufacturers' Association, Customs Brokers Association, and the Port Trailer Haulage Association themselves?

On the face of it there seems to have been a major failure on the part of this collective to act in ways that could avoid this breakdown that occurred/is occurring at the port. Let us be clear, the potential costs of this failure could be very high as measured not only in dollars and cents, but also in reputational loss. The easier of these costs to apportion is the monetary costs flowing from the industrial action. Far more difficult to quantify is the reputational losses deriving from the withdrawal of services by the haulage contractors.

My immediate concern is that an effective system be put in place immediately to avoid any recurrence of this kind of industrial instability at our port, because the ultimate cost will be the loss of a historic opportunity to become the fourth node in the global supply chain, and all that can potentially flow from this development to which our geo-strategic location and history assign us.

— Anthony Hylton is a m ember of p arliament and Opposition spokesman on industry, investment & commerce. He is also partner in the law firm Samuda & Johnson

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