Policymakers must be better acquainted with the region's strategic needs and the needs of the inter-island cargo industry.
So said Jamaican politician Anthony Hylton on Sunday at an inter-island cargo transport virtual forum hosted by the Caribbean Association of Customs Brokers (CACUB).
"Here I am speaking broadly, not just in terms of customs and brokers, but the broader issues of logistics and supply chains," Hylton said. "That (acquaintance) can only happen if there is a coming together in forum like this, where there is listening, hearing and understanding."
Hylton, an opposition spokesman in Jamaica on the industry, investment and global logistics, is an ex-foreign affairs minister.
Owing to the pandemic, he said, things are changing rapidly, and technology is playing a critical part in the overall process of doing business.
"I do not think any sector would be spared the need to adjust to technology and the role of technology," Hylton said.
The "Amazon effect," he said, is something stakeholders would have to deal with.
"Amazon has changed the expectation of consumers in the sector. The speed of the process, the costs, and pricing issues are real," Hylton said. "In a period where cost-pricing is going one direction, I think this sector needs to be sensitive and aware that the pressures are real. We need to be careful in going forward. The discussion at the policy level with the private sector is vital."
He emphasised that there are several issues to be considered at the policy level and by working together with stakeholders.
Executive director of the Barbados Manufacturers’ Association Shardea Boyce also spoke. She is also the chairman of the Caribbean Manufacturing Association (CMA), founded in November 2020. It has six founding members from several manufacturing companies in the region, including TT.
She said CMA’s key focuses include, but are not limited to, trade advocacy, climate change, labour and human-resource development in the Caribbean and sector development.
On trade barriers in the region, Boyce said a reliable transport mode is the most urgent solution needed.
"The development of a consistent schedule is important at the same businesses must ensure consistency in terms of supply," she said. "Both can only occur if we have a better understanding of regulations in member states and harmony as it pertains to regularity arrangements."
There is a perception, she said, that shipments (from small and medium-sized businesses) to and from Caricom countries may not have sufficient volumes to attract a significant number of regular shipping lines' services.
"What I discovered is that there are available products, but what is needed is a better organisation and planning between business," Boyce said. "The solution here, maybe, is to have representatives within each market to work with businesses to link producers with demand."
Boyce said the cost of transportation is high, and it affects competitiveness. It also acts as a barrier to small and medium-sized enterprises that may want to trade across the region.
Trade manager of Tropical Shipping Emile Hamilton spoke about the pricing structures for less-than-container-load (LCL) cargo. Some people, he said, charge by pallets or by weight.
"This could be something standardised based on the services we are offering in addition to having port tariff structure," Hamilton said. "Planning, pricing, landing fees, terminal handling fees, all of these are key points that will enhance the service."
He identified three "high-level myths" in the inter-island industry: lack of connectivity, insufficient trips, and lack of warehouses.
"We cannot let these myths hamper the services that we can offer."
Other panellists were senior trade economist in the Directorate General for Foreign Trade (Belize) Richard Reid; vice-president of Seaboard Marine Stephen Bell; vice-president (international sales) of Crowley Marine Timothy Quirk; and CEO of St Vincent and the Grenadines Port Authority Bishen John.
He brought greetings on behalf of his country’s prime minister Ralph Gonsalves. John is also the chairman of the Port Management Association of the Caribbean.
He said it is time that all organisations "sit down to have frank and open discussions" on issues in the industry.
John Robin of Dominica commended CACUB for hosting the forum, which he considered necessary "at this time."
Robin said he hopes to see a one-stop-shop where someone who wants to ship cargo can go to the location and get all necessary information on inter-island communication.