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Cluster GAT Caraïbes

Can Martinique bring off this ‘grande alliance’?

Sandra-CasanovaA Martinique-based organisation, Cluster GAT Caraïbes Logistique et Transports, is looking to play a key role in maximising the economic benefits of the expanded Panama Canal by encouraging other transport and logistics providers across the Caribbean region to join its ranks.

But how far can it pursue this goal given Martinique’s eastern location and its close bonds with France?

The organisation’s president, Sandra Casanova, spoke to Caribbean Maritime.

GAT Caraïbes’ ambitious plans were first highlighted in the previous edition of Caribbean Maritime. These are now fleshed out in a more detailed Q&A report on the new Martinique-based logistics network.

Question 1

Caribbean Maritime: For the benefit of readers of Caribbean Maritime, what is Cluster GAT Caraïbes?

Sandra Casanova: Cluster GAT Caraïbes is an international network of transport and logistics companies, industrialists and distributors involved in the worldwide transport of goods and people across the Caribbean/Americas zone.

Martinique is opening up to the Caribbean and the world. We wish to capture the interest of the Greater Antilles by highlighting the importance of their participation in a collective think tank in order to initiate new solutions in this sector.

Dr Fritz Pinnock has been very prolific on the subject of innovation in our regional relations. Cluster GAT Caraïbes is one of many possible solutions.

Question 2

Caribbean Maritime: Cluster GAT Caraïbes seems a great idea, but how confident are you that this concept can take hold outside the francophone Caribbean?

Sandra Casanova: Several initiatives are facilitating exchanges between the French West Indies and the Caribbean/Americas zone. One of these is an experiment being conducted in collaboration with Saint Lucia and Dominica, and soon with Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados, in order to harmonise the application of laws within our territories.

Equally, the official entry of Martinique into the OECS [Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States], ECLAC [United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean], CARICOM and the ACS [Association of Caribbean States] which is programmed in the near future should allow us to develop relations on a win-win basis in all the sectors that we shall tackle together. We must build up positive interdependence between our territories because our geographical position requires it.

Question 3

Caribbean Maritime: What reaction are you getting from the non French-speaking Caribbean?

Sandra Casanova: The reaction has been excellent, albeit accompanied by a strong question mark on the capacity of being able to do it together.

Cluster GAT Caraïbes is a network that each one of us can enrich by contributing one’s ideas and actions. We have applied for membership of the Caribbean Shipping Association and hope to officially join this great community in May 2014.

Question 4

Caribbean Maritime: Is this an idea designed to promote Martinique as a logistics hub rather than a genuine desire to see greater Caribbean connectivity?

Sandra Casanova: Wanting to become a frontline logistics hub seems to us a natural objective. However, what we are looking for, above all, is to organise and develop inter-Caribbean transport in order to optimise regional logistics.

During the 43rd CSA meeting in Panama, Mrs Patricia Francis rightly reminded us of the importance of working together on regional interconnectivity.

Question 5

Caribbean Maritime: Is it fair to say that Martinique now has greater autonomy within its status as a French overseas department and is now looking outwards from a regional perspective? If so, is Guadeloupe following a similar policy?

Sandra Casanova: Martinique, as a French overseas department, can find strength and weakness in this tripartite position, being at the same time Caribbean, French and European.

Although we do not yet enjoy complete freedom in our commercial relations with foreign countries, we are working to break down the barriers that are prejudicial to us and which favour the establishment of a monopoly which in turn creates a high cost of living.

As early as 2011, the President of Martinique’s Regional Council, Serge Letchimy, set up concrete regional integration policies. Our sister island, Guadeloupe, has followed suit.

Question 6

Caribbean Maritime: What are the perceived benefits for Martinique of this change of policy?

Sandra Casanova: Martinique needs to find its own place in its natural environment. We wish to develop all possible avenues of co-operation with our Caribbean neighbours – for example, in sectors such as training, trade, culture, the environment, finance, etc.

Question 7

Caribbean Maritime: Is there any benefit from being both a French overseas department and being based in the Caribbean? For example, does this give Martinique any advantages?

Sandra Casanova: Martinique is strategically well placed for France and Europe in the Caribbean/Americas region, which in turn gives the Greater Antilles access to a European market of 739 million inhabitants.

The setting up of a network of Caribbean partners within Cluster GAT Caraïbes will facilitate the identification of potential partners in order not only to develop trade relations amongst ourselves but also to enable Cluster GAT Caraïbes to offer bigger, joint Caribbean proposals to partners worldwide.

Moreover, a collaborative tool has been developed in partnership with Cluster Martinique Tech composed of young Caribbean IT specialists. This tool, which is a computerised marketplace, is the continuation of the collaborative approach of Cluster GAT Caraïbes to enable our members to match supply and demand of transport and logistics multimodals in the maritime transportation industry for the Greater Antilles via this internet platform.

On a regional scale, we can be co-participants in the sector of bulk logistics, an initiative that needs to be set up rapidly because this is what is expected by all of us.

Question 8

Caribbean Maritime: Clearly, Martinique will soon have the necessary facilities and infrastructure, but do you believe that Fort-de-France can really compete with Kingston, Freeport, MIT and Cartagena as a container hub once the enlarged Panama Canal is open for business?

Sandra Casanova: With the opening of the third Panama Canal lock, Martinique nurtures the ambition of taking advantage of some of the added value that this modification will create to the maritime transportation industry using this zone. The Port of Martinique wishes to be interconnected to the biggest world ports, even if Martinique is not as competitive as Kingston, Freeport or MIT because of maritime transport routes.

With its infrastructure and business drive, Martinique is a valid partner for
everyone and deserves to find its place within a global, joint Caribbean strategy.

Question 9

Caribbean Maritime: Is Martinique in the correct location geographically to compete with those ports mentioned in Question 8? It would seem that Martinique is too far east for carriers passing the Panama Canal and also serving East Coast United States.

Sandra Casanova: Martinique will certainly miss out on the new east-west maritime trade routes. However, studies have proved that the new routes generated by the repositioning of the panamax vessels can be tapped throughout the zone.

Martinique is equipped with structured and modern port facilities (by 2016 there will be 30 hectares of land, 650 linear metres of main quay with a water depth of 14 metres, four post panamax cranes, etc); and in addition political stability which confers its statute of French overseas department.

With the security Martinique can offer – the port applies the ISPS Code – it will become a major port. The Grand Port de la Martinique is getting ready to welcome intersecting north-south traffic coming from Europe and going to the east coast of South America – for example, Brazil – and vice versa. The flow of transhipment traffic towards the most remote islands of the Caribbean, in the north as well as in the south, will also develop through Martinique, taking advantage of its geographical location in the Lesser Antilles in relation to cargo transit time.

Question 10

Caribbean Maritime: In the past, Martinique has had a reputation for high charges and very poor labour relations. How have these problems been addressed?

Sandra Casanova: Martinique is aware of its strong and weak points. Liaison committees have been set up in an attempt to anticipate possible strikes. However, we are not machines, so certain blockades are, unfortunately, difficult to avoid. You are certainly aware of similar incidents at MIT in Panama where, for more than a week, there have been labour problems. As to our charges, we are at the moment reflecting on this aspect in order to be more competitive and offer better value for money.