Tuesday, April 23, 2024

THE ISSUE: All ports not created equal

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Can regional ports be more efficient?

The Bridgetown Port has won numerous awards over the years, including the accolade for being the best port in the Caribbean. The facility, now managed by Barbados Port Inc. (BPI), has expanded and improved over the years. Other ports in the Caribbean have done the same.

A seaport, like an airport, is vital to the economic well-being of a country like Barbados. In the case of the airport, it facilitates the arrival of tourists who contribute foreign exchange to the economy. The seaport on the other hand is key to commerce, enabling the country to import food and other items, while also contributing to commerce via exports.

In Barbados’ case, the size of the Bridgetown Port and the dual focus on cruise tourism and cargo trade means that these two activities compete for space. The Sugar Point Cruise Terminal has been mooted but it appears that financial challenges mean this facility’s construction and opening is unclear.

In such a climate, expansion at the existing BPI-managed facility has been a major focus as authorities seek to alleviate space challenges. The port’s efficiency is an area that has also attracted attention. BPI chief executive officer David Jean-Marie alluded to this recently in an interview published online.

“Ninety per cent of the goods coming into Barbados come through the seaport, and all of the cruise vessels come here. We give cruise vessels priority over cargo vessels, but that creates a problem for us,” he said.

“We are therefore seeking to have a separation of cargo from cruises, so we plan to build a cruise facility just to the south of the port. It is not the best thing to have multi-million-dollar cruise vessels coming to dock in the cargo port and having the passengers looking over at the port where we are handling other goods.”

He said while the financial issues surrounding the new cruise terminal were worked on the port had embarked on a $100 million project “for the reorganisation of the port facility itself”.

“We have made deeper draughts and we have dredged and reclaimed acres of land, so we are building capacity as well as modernising the equipment to be able to accommodate bigger cargo vessels.”

Jean-Marie said the aim was “to become and expect to be the best in class port in the region, both from a cargo perspective as well as a cruise perspective”.

Based on previous research there is some work required if Barbados and its neighbours in the region are to have more efficient port services. A 2014 report published by the Inter-American Development Bank found that Latin American and Caribbean ports were 40 per cent less efficient than those in Europe. They were, however, 40 per cent more efficient than ports in Africa.

The positive news was that 63 ports in Latin America and the Caribbean saw their technical efficiency improve by 39 per cent between 1999 and 2009.

The World Economic Forum was not so positive, though. It said Latin American and Caribbean ports offered some of the worst quality to be found at ports worldwide. It said regional ports scored an average of four out of a possible seven, whereas those in the Middle East and Africa were awarded 4.4 to 4.5.

Last year, the IDB released another report on ports in the region. It was titled When It Comes To Container Port Efficiency, Are All Developing Regions Equal? It found that “ports in the developing world have varying levels of productivity and efficiency, regardless of the region or country in which they are located”.

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