or decades, Jamaica has made a name for itself as a Caribbean haven for business process outsourcing operations of companies from around the world.
Now, Jamaica wants the rest of the world to know that this island nation is also a safe harbor for transportation and logistics operations of port-related shipping and trade.
With 14 seaports and three container terminals, Jamaica represents one of the most important waystations in the Caribbean. Its proximity to the Panama Canal and the U.S. gives this English-speaking country of 3 million people a strategic advantage. Jamaica also offers the ability to accommodate the larger post-Panamax vessels.
Jamaica hopes to widen its competitive advantage through a series of large-scale infrastructure investments designed to increase trade and recruit foreign direct investment to places like Kingston, Montego Bay and Port Antonio.
Two of the more significant investments coming online are the Caymanas Special Economic Zone and the Kingston Logistics Park. The Caymanas SEZ in Kingston is a 10,000-acre master-planned community that is designed to become the premier economic zone on the island. The KLP is a new world-class logistics park on 80 acres that has the ability to integrate global supply chain operations due to its proximity to the Norman Manley International Airport.
The Caymanas Special Economic Zone (CSEZ) is a project of the Government of Jamaica and will feature land set aside for residential, commercial, retail, entertainment, hospitality, educational, health, recreational and industrial uses. CSEZ South will be a flagship industrial park of 583 acres and will cater to tenants with port operations at the Port of Kingston. All CSEZ facilities will be state-of-the-art and be constructed using green technologies.
Don Gittens, manager of logistics, energy and infrastructure for Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO), says that the CSEZ “is going to be a transformational project for Jamaica. It complements the full logistics framework of the country. These are 583 acres of industrial land that we are designating as a special economic zone with access to the Port of Kingston and our airport there. This development will bring in additional economic revenues for the country in light manufacturing, BPO, warehousing and distribution, IT services, etc.”
Jamaica will host the World Free Zones Organization Conference in Montego Bay from June 13 – 17.
What makes the CSEZ so attractive? “You get special incentives from the government,” says Gittens. “We will market it to international companies to get them to come to Jamaica and make local investments. In addition to our people, Jamaica offers a robust telecommunications infrastructure; modern road network across the island; no foreign exchange control; no restrictions on foreign ownership; and a national development plan.”
Gittens hopes that the rest of the world catches a glimpse of this remarkable economic progress when Jamaica hosts the World Free Zones Organization Conference at the Montego Bay Convention Center June 13-17. More than 1,500 attendees are expected.
While the pandemic slowed growth, Jamaica has managed to maintain its B-plus credit rating and stable economy. “We are looking good now,” adds Gittens. “Before the pandemic, we were rated as the No. 1 performing stock market exchange in the world by Bloomberg in 2015 and 2018.”
Gittens notes that “logistics is so key to us as a country. It is part of our tourism product. We have made upgrades to our key ports such as Port Royal, Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. Port Royal is where the pirates would come back in the day. We have redeveloped Port Royal and we are taking cruise ships there now. We are putting infrastructure in place to make sure we can take advantage of any opportunities that come around.”
With Kingston Freeport Terminal Limited making major investments in the port, the Port of Kingston is in prime position to attract big-name firms like Amazon, Nike and other end-users that need a hub in the Caribbean, says Gittens. “We can take larger ships with more cargo. That allows us to play with the big boys. We can move goods around in an efficient way. We have a full ecosystem around logistics. We have maintenance. We have investments in drydock facilities to do repairs. Ships come here for bunkering. The ecosystem around logistics is very competitive here. A ship can come here and find everything it needs.”
Playing a pivotal role in much of this expansion is Kingston Wharves Limited, a private, Jamaican-owned port that operates strategically from Port Bustamante. This is the port that links the island to more than 20 port states around the globe. In May 2017, KWL expanded its operation by constructing a 150,000-sq.-ft. logistics facility that offers both modular warehouse space and handling of mixed cargo. KWL has also become a Caribbean automobile hub, handling more than 120,000 vehicles per year for both local and international markets.
In January 2022, KWL expanded again, this time with a US$30 million investment into redeveloping Berth 7. The project includes the reconstruction of 183 square meters of space at Port Bustamante to boost capacity to service more vessels. Plans are also in the works to invest US$25 million to expand logistics services at the Ashenheim Road Warehouse Complex.
Mark Williams, CEO of KWL, says that Kingston Wharves generates an annual impact of $3 billion on the Jamaican economy, employs over 700 people directly, and creates another 2,000 jobs indirectly.
“We are a conduit for economic growth for Jamaica,” says Williams. “Ports act as a catalyst for economic growth for countries like Jamaica. We provide Jamaica a platform to reach the global community. We provide services to some of the world’s largest businesses. We offer picking and packing services. The investment has been very rewarding for KWL as a company. We have had profit growth of more than 20% this past year.”
He notes that “we are expanding Berth 7. We will expand that to 13.5 meters draft from 10 meters. We can offer potential customers greater service. We service vehicle vessels, break-bulk cargo, etc. A Norwegian pure car carrier uses KWL as its hub in this region. We facilitated 160,000 moves for just cars last year.”
He says that KWL has four main pillars: hiring the right people; having the right processes; investing in the right infrastructure; and ensuring profitability for investors.
"The Caymanas Special Economic Zone is going to be a transformational project for Jamaica. It complements the full logistics framework of the country.”
— Don Gittens, Manager of Logistics, Energy and Infrastructure, Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO)
“KWL has a special economic zone license,” Williams adds. “The Ashenheim project will be in the SEZ. We have broken ground. The prime minister joined us for that groundbreaking ceremony. This project will be done in a modular form. It will have cold storage and ambient temperature space. The second phase of construction will be done in June or July. A pre-engineered, steel-frame facility is the goal. We are excited about this development and the opportunities for a near-shoring logistics facility. The size of the facility is 300,000 sq. ft.”
Kingston Logistics Park
According to JAMPRO, the Kingston Logistics Park (KLP) is “one of the premier logistics projects under the Logistics Hub Initiative (LHI) — a strategy to leverage Jamaica’s geographical location in global cargo trade and position the country as a global destination in cargo trans-shipment and logistics services. The Government of Jamaica through the Port Authority of Jamaica is well advanced in the development of a new world-class logistics park on 40 hectares. KLP is located near the world-class container terminal, Kingston Freeport Terminal Ltd., which is operated by French consortium CMA CGM.”
The first phase of KLP was finished two years ago and includes construction of a new 18,000-square-meter warehouse. This facility will serve as a “proof of concept” to showcase the logistics potential of the Port of Kingston. KLP will be developed as a Special Economic Zone and receive tax benefits. Labor and migratory flexibilities are also available to promote the development of specific economic activities.
An affiliated project is the Kingston Freeport Terminal Limited. KFTL was established in 2015 as a subsidiary of CMA-CGM and has signed a 30-year concession agreement with the Government of Jamaica (Port Authority of Jamaica). The contract gives KFTL the right to finance, expand, operate and maintain the Kingston Container Terminal.
This includes the dredging of the access channel, the turning and shipping basin, expansion and improvement of infrastructure, upgrading the ICT facilities, and acquisition and upgrading of the operating equipment. The projected investment is US$258 million over 5 years. This includes constructing 1,200 meters of berth, reinforcement to European Union Standards, and 800 cubic meters of dredging reinforced to 15.5 meters, giving the port the ability to accommodate Post Panamax Vessels.
Gloria Henry, vice president of the Port Authority of Jamaica, notes that Kingston Harbor ranks among the top harbors in the world. “It is called Kingston Freeport, and it will upgrade the infrastructure at the port,” she says. “Having a strategic advantage of the large natural harbor, we have moved our attention to near-port logistics. We have seen Jamaica move into the top global 100 in TEU cargo, going from 1.3 million TEUs in 2020 to 2.0 million TEUs in 2021.”
“We have done extremely well in business process outsourcing,” she says. “Several multi-nationals have come here and set up operations. We have over 50,000 employees in BPO. We are using that to work with multi-nationals to develop our logistics facilities in Jamaica. We have promoted Jamaica as a tourism destination and BPO location. We are now promoting trade and distribution here.”
KLP is also being positioned as an incubator to support logistics development in Jamaica for the health sciences and other industries, adds Henry. “We have an incubator in Montego Bay to support this. We provide everything from the physical aspects to the services. We help them get their SEZs and get their businesses registered in Jamaica. It gives them an opportunity come in and test the market. This creates an opportunity to service the markets in this region.”