Discussions are ongoing between Government and investors about the purchase of a ferry that would move citizens and cargo throughout the Eastern Caribbean island chain.
Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy, Kirk Humphrey made the disclosure as he responded to the concerns of Executive Director of COT Holdings Limited, Nigel Worme about worrying challenges to regional trade.
On Friday, Worme revealed that regional trade was so expensive that it is currently cheaper to ship some products from Europe to the Caribbean than it is for countries in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to ship to each other.
“It’s a very competitive market and one of the big challenges is the cost of shipping out of Barbados and we see it a lot in the label industry, where our European competitors ship from mainland Europe or the United Kingdom into the Caribbean for less than we can ship a container from Barbados to Trinidad or Guyana. We have real difficulty in the cost of freight for exporting, so that is our biggest challenge,” Worme revealed.
“A lot of our product is big, bulky and heavy and the cost of airfare is high. So hopefully we will get some reduced rates on travel throughout the region,” the businessman explained.
Another challenge with inter island travel is that if shippers don’t get adequate load on a particular shipping date, the shipment gets delayed for another two weeks, which according to Worme, continues to hurt the sustainability of existing supply chains.
During a tour of COT’s Newton Industrial Park facility on Friday, Worme revealed that he would soon be moving a 20-foot container of locally-manufactured, environmentally-friendly single-use food containers to Belize for just under $US20,000.
Responding to the concerns, Humphrey suggested the acquisition of intra regional ferries as the saviour of a Caribbean Community struggling to facilitate travel and trade. While he did not give a timeline, the Maritime Affairs Minister revealed Government was working feverishly to realise this goal.
“As a Government we have made a determination that we have to have a ferry that not only moves our people, but also moves cargo and we are talking to persons right now who would be willing to help us to invest in it. That would move cargo directly up the island chain but in a way that makes sense,” Humphrey disclosed.
The Minister added that the move would also assist with the provision of food from island to island in the aftermath of hurricanes.
“I do not think the Caribbean should be in a position where we have to be waiting on people to come and save us, and therefore, we should have these ferries. After the last hurricane in Dominica it was very difficult to access the country by air, but you could still access the country by sea,” he noted.
It is for these reasons Humphrey said, the expansion of the Bridgetown Port and an increase in berths and jetties were important.
“To move bigger numbers, we need ferries that are nicely built for purpose, are stabilised and can move containers, making the movement faster and cheaper,” the Minister said.
“That is why we keep talking about constructing new berths and jetties and the need for us to be able to move or accommodate people at different points around the island. But Barbados has to start thinking about the sea differently too. I would love to see us moving cargo from Oistins all the way to the north on the water, instead of having these large container trucks in the city,” said Humphrey.
Meanwhile, for COT’s Executive Director, the goal is to expand the printing and packaging company to the stage where it becomes “a household name” throughout the Caribbean.
To achieve this however, regional trade must be better facilitated because, according to Worme, it would not be sustainable to set up operations outside of Barbados, particularly in islands with small population sizes.
In the meantime, he said, COT would continue to focus on penetrating the Belizean market with his single-use alternative containers with the assistance of the Barbados Investment and Development Corporation.