JIS News

Jamaica could very well become the ‘Dubai’ of the Americas and the China/Caribbean Trade Fair and Forum to be held here from February 2 to 5 could perhaps be the first step in that direction.
Dubai is the gateway to trade connections between the Far East, the Middle East, Southern Europe and North Africa. Jamaica is in a similar position in the Americas as it sits at the centre of connections between South America, Central America and North America thus placing the island at the hub of these linkages.
Chairman of the China/Caribbean Trade Fair Planning Committee and Senior Vice President of Business Development at the Port Authority of Jamaica, Robert Stephens says Jamaica needs to put itself in a position where the country can “become the Dubai of the Americas”.
“Our port of Kingston is ranked 62 or 63 in the world and every year we are moving up. What is important is that we continue to expand and ensure that our facilities are as efficient as possible compared to the rest of the world,” he says.
“In addition we clearly have to put commercial free zone type operations in place..logistics companies using Jamaica as its base to provide services for distribution to the Americas from Jamaica and that is where we are going,” Mr. Stephens adds.
He made reference to the commercial Jebel Ali Free zone in Dubai, which is 100 square kilometres, 10 kilometres by 10 kilometres and houses 2,500 companies from all over the world.
“That is where Jamaica needs to go where we are developing the kind of capacity to be able to handle the movement of goods through our ports to that extent. We can then become the major hub in the Americas.”
Although it is early days yet, Mr. Stephens says Jamaica is already working to establish commercial type free zone and the expansion of the port of Kingston is just the first step.
The present capacity at the port is 1.2 million TEU (twenty-foot equivalent units) per anum, and Mr. Stephens says plans are in place to increase that to 1.5 million TEU. “In addition to that we are currently looking at ways we can expand our commercial free zone facilities to be able to provide the logistics services for companies from China or Europe, or wherever, to bring their goods in bulk to Jamaica and use Jamaica as the distribution hub to the Caribbean, to Latin America and North America,” he explains.
“We are going to be announcing the various things that are being done in areas relating to the commercial free zone during this year. Details of when it is going to start and when it is really going to get off the ground, I don’t want to say any thing about just yet,” Mr. Stephens informs.
The China/Caribbean Trade Fair and Forum, he says, is going to be the foundation on which all of this is built. “I think you can see from the level of interest and participation here (at the second China/Caribbean Trade Fair and Forum sensitization seminar and workshop held at the Knutsford Court Hotel in Kingston on Thursday Jan. 13) that there are some serious business players.. Jamaican companies which are serious about doing business not only with China but with the rest of the Americas,” he elaborates.
The workforce should benefit greatly from such an enterprise Mr. Stephens as indicates, as a number of jobs would definitely be made available through this venture. “If you have a company, coming here to manufacture from Jamaica for export to the Americas, this will be a partnership between China and Jamaica private sector companies,” he says, adding, “those employees are going to be Jamaican and those employees are going to benefit from the other things that are coming out of it including their education, their development the income they will earn as well as the other benefits that will accrue. So the economic spin offs from this type of thing are huge”.
But what is it that is making Jamaica so attractive to a great economic power such as China? Mr. Stephens says among other things, it has to do with good marketing.
“We have not waited on the Chinese to come to us we have gone to the Chinese and invited them to come to Jamaica to work with us. One of the aspects is the marketing, the importance of emphasizing what we have, what are our major advantages and we also are putting ourselves in a position where we remove all the bureaucracies that is impeding growth and ensuring that the environment generally is attractive to investment and development of business,” he explains.
Mr. Stephens notes that all the relevant Ministries of Government are working together and that the local private sector is assisting with identifying the bottlenecks and working to remove these from the business environment.
While many companies have expressed great interest in tapping into this venture, there are those who are still unsure of what this will mean for the manufacturing sector in Jamaica.
“You will always have fear of change and fear of new things but I think that what we are seeing is that the business people of Jamaica are now responding coming onboard recognizing the opportunities and are willing to put themselves out their in the face of the Chinese saying we want to do business with you,”Mr. Stephens asserts.
Director of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) and Managing Director of Maxie Department Store Lyndon Williams tells JIS News that the Chamber was looking forward to this opportunity to partner with the Chinese.
“The Chamber is very excited about what is taking place as this (venture) represents major interest from a major economic power in the world. There are not many countries that are getting this type of attention. The future does look certainly promising, because of the high level of delegation coming down,” he says.
Mr. Williams says the Chamber has been encouraging its members to register to be a part of the trade fair and forum in order to make vital contacts.
“The potential investments and untapped markets and distribution that potentially awaits us are enormous. There is potential opportunities which could touch every aspect of our business community,” he states.
Mr. Williams notes that in 1978 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of China was $147 billion and that in 2003 it increased to $1 trillion. In 2020 it is expected to move to $4 trillion. “This is a very huge untapped market,” he stresses.
“We had a board meeting last year and the reaction we got from the board of directors itself was very positive. From speaking to a lot of our Chamber members we are getting the same reaction. Everyone is looking forward to this trade fair as they see a lot of possibilities,” he further informs.
Mr. Williams discloses there are a few companies that have expressed a certain amount of fear that they might be displaced. “If they look on the positive side there are rooms for partnerships, there is room to increase their capacity and there is a huge export potential. It’s a matter of looking at the opportunities and seizing it,” he says.
As it regards the establishment of a commercial free zone of that magnitude, Mr. Williams points out that, “If that ever comes to fruition it would solve a great deal of our economic problems in the near future. The potential economic spin off from that type of scenario is very huge. With the Port Authority putting their weight behind this project I am very optimistic that it will come through and if it ever does come through we should be there to seize that opportunity.”
While Jamaica waits to propel itself to that level, Mr. Stephens says there are various trade arrangements that have to be made. “We have also challenged the bankers association to look at the banking laws of Jamaica to determine if there are any impediments to doing business of the nature we are speaking about. If there are lets identify them and remove them,” he informs.
For those Jamaican companies that are unsure about what the future will bring for their businesses with the arrival of the Chinese companies, Mr. Stephens sought to address the issue.
He says there are several companies in Jamaica that have indicated their concerns. “For instances several people in the manufacturing sector said to me they are concerned. They say are we going to encourage the Chinese to come here to swamp us out of business and kill the manufacturing sector. I say to them look at this as an opportunity. You need to begin to look at these companies that are coming here as potential partners,” he tells JIS News.
The Chairman adds, “You currently have a capacity which is probably only satisfying the Jamaican market or trying to satisfy the Jamaican market. Why don’t you look at partnering with these companies, upgrade your technology, look at getting equipment from them and getting their investment with you to be able to look at a bigger market namely the Americas or Europe or wherever.”
He makes reference to the fact that the Chamber has recognized the importance of this partnership as many of their members are already doing trade with China. “At the last sensitization seminar we had Mr. Azan indicated that for his Mega mart and other stores, 90 per cent of his imports come from China. He has been doing business with China for the last 20 years,” he says.
Executive Director of the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ) Lola Fong Wright also agrees that the China/Caribbean Trade Fair and Forum was a signature event for the sector’s trade calendar. “I think it serves to reinforce that Jamaica is really a strong trading country and the extent to which we can foster strong trading relationships and build up strong trading ties is part of what would really moves us forward as a force to reckon with in this era of globalization and trading. We are certainly pleased to be a part of that,” she comments.
China, Ms. Wright says, has always been a “powerhouse” in the trade arena and as such PSOJ members have been advised to stay close to this event and make use of all the opportunities and information that would be available.
Meanwhile, President of Jamaica Promotions (JAMPRO), Patricia Francis said the list of companies that are expected to attend the trade fair and forum included professionals, infrastructure companies and companies with various other types of profiles.
“Sometimes the solution is in partnering with the private sector from the rest of the world in dealing with some of our infrastructure problems with respect to the bureaucracy. Certainly there are opportunities that presents themselves with companies which are coming to look at solutions to some of our infrastructure challenges,” she remarks.

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