Aerial view of Reynold's Pier in St. Ann, with vessel in port.

THE US market now has a significant demand for limestone, and the managing director of Jamaica Bauxite Mining (JMB) believes Jamaica can capitalise on this demand and boost economic growth.

"Jamaica has been blessed with over 70 per cent of our lands consisting of limestone and in our range we have some of the highest purity of limestone," said JBM Managing Director Donna-Marie Howe during an interview with the Jamaica Observer.

She says the capacity to increase limestone exports exists at Reynolds Pier in St Ann, which has been exporting limestone for over 25 years. She added that since Mexico stopped supplying the US with limestone, a huge gap has now been left unfilled and international players are now turning their attention to Jamaica.

"The demand, because of construction, has increased, and Jamaica has been an attraction for these big companies overseas because of the positioning; we are in the nearshore to source our limestone," she said.

MARIE HOWE... the market is for us to take.

The pier has undergone upgrades in the last year through a partnership with the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ), which allows it to facilitate larger vessels.

So far, Reynolds Pier has been aligned with three major international partners that dominate the US limestone aggregate market and plans to strengthen its appeal to trade with more international partners.

"We have been speaking to these off-takers in the US. We are in direct conversation and on the cusp of signing joint venture deals with these off-takers," Howe told the Business Observer.

Currently, the pier has only exported 500,000 tonnes of limestone per year; however, it has the capacity as a conduit to export 2.5 million metric tonnes a year without major renovations and improvements to its port. However, Howe says the aim is to expand its export capacity.

Cargo vessel docked alongside Reynold's Pier for limestone loading operations.

"We are committed to doing some major investment in the short, medium and long term to get those numbers up to 4.5 million [metric tonnes] in the medium term," she said.

The only limestone miner currently working with the pier is Lydford Mining which now has a target to triple its exports to 1.5 million tonnes per year, this will in turn triple the revenues of the pier. To meet its full capacity, Reynolds Pier is sourcing a joint venture with another large US entity that will match the numbers or even increase them by next year.

"It will open the doors for more development and expansion that is needed and that is the phase we are heading into now, to go into how can we expand. In 24 months we will have an expansion plan in place," Howe revealed.

The pier has already invested in remedial works to improve operational efficiencies this year, and will also be focusing on upskilling and training its employees. Howe explained that because some of its workers have been in the industry for many years, a partnership with the Caribbean Maritime University will be looked into to get staff certified in new areas to be able to become more efficient.

Limestone-loading operation from stockpile into loading hopper, which feeds onto the conveyor belt.

"For continuous improvement, as we make use of innovation and technology and improve our efficiencies, we also want our human capacity to be able to be trained in aligned with that," she explained.

She added that Jamaica had a history of exporting the best sugar and Reynolds Pier was the only exporter for the island and its facilities have been customised to meet international standards. Jamaica once again has the potential to be the best and first in class and leader of aggregate limestone export.

"We can grow the industry, Jamaica can be a significant player in the limestone export industry, export has an immediate impact on the economy," she said.

In explaining the demands for limestone, Howe revealed that one US player has a demand of 14 million tonnes of limestones per year and another has a shortfall of 5 million tonnes per year, she says if the pier could facilitate that amount per year they could sign a contract with these players.

"The market is for us to take, we just need to get the facility within Jamaica [ready] — we are very far ahead in leading that initiative. We are the pioneers of that initiative of limestone [and] we are taking that charge to expand our current existing capacity," she said.

BY CODIE-ANN BARRETT Senior business reporter

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