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David Jean-Marie

Opportunity knocks for our modernized port system

President vows to build on CSA strengths to encourage region-wide collaboration

The new President of the Caribbean Shipping Association, David Jean-Marie, believes there is huge potential for the Caribbean region to capitalize on the major changes taking place in global trade flows and key shipping routes. He tells ‘Caribbean Maritime’ about some of his personal views and ambitions for the industry. Like his immediate predecessor, Grantley Stephenson, the new President of the CSA believes that confidence in the future of the Caribbean maritime sector is fully justified. David Jean-Marie says the increase in world trade in both advanced and emerging economies should have a positive impact on the global supply chain and thus open up new opportunities for Caribbean shipping.

Q: Which ports and terminals are crucial in attracting new and higher levels of cargo traffic?

A: Panama, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, The Bahamas and Cuba are moving full steam ahead given the anticipation that the region’s deepwater ports will become significant transshipment logistics centers and hubs for international commerce.

Also, Jamaica’s shipping industry is strategically positioned to capitalize on the opportunities expected from the completion of the Panama Canal expansion. While Kingston is viewed as being ideally poised to facilitate the transshipment of US-bound cargo, it is also positioned to expand its role as a hub for transshipment to the Caribbean and South America.

Q: Where do the most difficult challenges lie – and what aspects of the current trade system need to be strengthened?

A: While there exists great opportunity for growth in Caribbean logistics, there are important challenges as well for the major hub ports of the region. According to assessments by the World Bank, there are a number of factors yet to be resolved including the quality of trade and transport-related infrastructure, the efficiency of customs processes, the ease of arranging competitively priced shipments, the quality of logistics services, the ability to track and trace consignments and the frequency with which shipments reach consignees within the scheduled time.

There is merit in Jean-Paul Rodrigue’s recent assessment of the Caribbean transshipment market, which points to some key vulnerabilities of intermediate hubs in the Caribbean. These include:

  1. A narrow focus on transshipment only
  2. Competition in basic resources such as location, nautical accessibility, terminal infrastructure and on-terminal productivity
  3. Sources of competition can easily be imitated by competitors, thus making it hard to create a sustainable competitive advantage.

We need to consider how we can all leverage our collective operational knowledge and best practices from one port to another to our mutual advantage in order to maximize our benefits as a region in the post-Panama Canal expansion era.

david jean marie

Q: What would you personally like to achieve as CSA President over the next three years?

A: I will be able to build upon a strong foundation that has been put in place by the leaders of CSA who went before me and were instrumental in building the association into what it is today. It is through their efforts and vision that the CSA has been placed on a solid footing.

I reiterate a point I made at the last CSA AGM in Cartagena: the Caribbean is no longer a sleepy place and the CSA after 45 years will have to reinvent itself. The CSA has a pivotal role to play in all facets of shipping in the region as a “world-class and sustainable premier regional institution” and I am committed to working assiduously towards ensuring this, while upholding and respecting our CSA traditions.

We intend also to strengthen the role of the CSA as a regional ‘think tank’ and to speak out on emerging issues and become more that regional voice.

As its new President I am committed to continuing to expand the training opportunities for all our members as we continue to partner with regional institutions such as those in Puerto Rico, the University of Trinidad and Tobago, the University of the West Indies and the Caribbean Maritime Institute in addressing the changing environment.

We also want to further strengthen the collaboration with other regional institutions such as the Port Management Association of the Caribbean, the OAS, the Association of Caribbean States and others in Central America and the wider region as we tackle a globalized world. We are operating in a world in which our business environment is constantly evolving and creating new paradigm shifts, new industry standards and new forms of competition. Recent changes in global container shipping and port organization have forced us all to re-strategise, to rethink and re-engineer our organization’s business models for greater flexibility in order to successfully navigate the way forward.

I will be encouraging national associations to present their needs to General Council and to recommend ways in which the CSA can play a more dynamic role in assisting each territory to develop their maritime services to a high standard of efficiency.

This year will not be without continued challenges which the CSA is fully prepared to tackle head-on. However, I am confident that we are equipped with the requisite levels of astuteness and agility needed to weather the storm and to take advantage of the opportunities that are certain to appear on the horizon.

Q: On the human resources side, are there areas where you would like to see a fresh approach?

A: The key to our transformation resides in our people, whose expertise is critical if the region is to consolidate its global position as the hub for major trade routes and tourism activities. We must continue to help define and clarify the changing world in which our members’ businesses operate by educating their people.

This association has a specific niche to fill in terms of creating the next generation of Caribbean maritime, port and logistics experts who are so highly trained that they will be sought by international employers, not just those within the region. We must prepare our people for the demands and expectations of this dynamic industry. With all the advances in port infrastructure and global shipping, we at the CSA must continue to act as a training conduit that will create the next cadre of industry experts.

In 2014/15 we accommodated a record 228 trainees in our various training programs. In our most recent offering on Cruise Tourism in September 2014 a record 103 highly motivated persons attended the two-day workshops in Antigua. Eighty-two per cent of those who participated in the course, which was facilitated and endorsed by the Caribbean Maritime Institute, rated it as excellent and highly relevant to their jobs. This demonstrates that the CSA is indeed providing a highly demanded service in the provision of modern training opportunities.

It could not happen without the generosity of our sponsors and partners, who are increasingly willing to fund these short training programs we offer. In fact, last year we attracted powerful partners like Bromma, DP World, the University of the West Indies, the Caribbean Maritime Institute and the Port Management Association of the Caribbean.

I am even more gratified by the positive response of our members to appeals for financial support of our Training Fund. Because of their generosity, the CSA has been able to provide our scholarships and low-cost – and in most cases free – training opportunities. We owe a great deal to our members for the increased levels of monetary assistance provided toward the training programs.

Q: Is this a useful time to take a look at the management structures and operational methods in Caribbean ports?

A: The viability of shipping can only be guaranteed by highly trained, skilled and knowledgeable seafarers and land-based maritime professionals. We at the CSA continue to demonstrate our commitment to industry-related training by offering courses at little or no cost to ensure capacity-building among skilled employees across the region.

Caribbean facilities have capitalized on opportunities to establish themselves as transshipment hubs for the region. Transhipment has always seemed very attractive to Caribbean ports because it adds cargo to the local trade, making otherwise uneconomical operations profitable and infrastructure investment more viable.

The case for collaboration among Caribbean port operators is stronger than ever. To quote my predecessor, Grantley Stephenson: “The harsh reality is that all of us will not win at this game of portcentric logistics and value-added services development. There will be a need for some larger and profitable players in transshipment. There is room for some world-class performers as nodes in the global supply chain. But this will not be the answer for all our economies.”

Caribbean countries should expect to see an increase in third-party logistics providers, carriers, brokers, financiers and technology providers as the trend toward transportation and logistics outsourcing will only grow, predicated by a need for demand responsiveness, redundancies in supply chains and market agility.

Caribbean ports need to develop a strong network, acknowledging each one’s competitive advantage and possibly cooperating to direct cargo/commodity routes. This kind of alliance doesn’t really exist among our ports, even though they certainly exist among lines. It may be time that we started creating some alliances of our own.