The Association of Caribbean States (ACS) is implementing projects in the maritime and air transport areas to increase trade opportunities and connectivity in the region, says Alfonso Múnera, Secretary General, Association of Caribbean States (ACS). “We, at the ACS, are trying to facilitate the dialogue and put in place the conditions to make co-operation possible among the countries of the region. We have a special committee of transportation at the ACS. These are very complex topics and we are not saying we can get these things done in one or two months, but we must start now,” he said. Múnera spoke to the Business Guardian on September 25 at the ACS’ head office, Sweet Briar Road, St Clair. On September 20 and 21, a committee from the ACS member states met and discussed two projects, one of which is Map of Maritime Routes in the Greater Caribbean and the next project is the Caribbean Maritime Port Authority.
Caribbean Maritime Port Authority
According to Mathieu Fontanaud, adviser to the Transport Director, ACS, who also took part in the interview with Múnera, the objective of the Caribbean Maritime Port Authority project is to create a strategic plan for the maritime port development of the greater Caribbean, which would allow the establishment of actions to be developed in order to have a competitive maritime sector that can satisfy the region’s trade needs.
It would also include proposals to promote and develop port infrastructure that could sustain the increased traffic that is expected to result from the Panama Canal expansion. “The cost of transport is very high for the region. Most of the trade and products transported regionally are done by maritime routes. This comes in the context of the expansion of the Panama Canal. This will increase trade in the region and make the region more competitive,” Fontanaud said.
Some of the participating regional bodies in the project include the ACS, Panama Maritime Authority (AMP), ECLAC, Caribbean Shipping Association and Caricom. Fontanaud said the Port Authority of T&T was involved in the meetings at the ACS. Múnera said it was more of an introductory meeting on how to move the project forward. “The real important aspect part of this project is that so many years, we have been talking about the co-operation of transportation. Transportation deals with the key economic development in the Caribbean. We are talking about the progress in terms of tourism and other activities. We must find ways to strengthen communication throughout the Caribbean in terms of air and maritime transportation.” Munera said the problem in the past has been the different stakeholders in the maritime industry not working together to work together to come up with solutions.
“We have not been able to create a mechanism to get together ports, shipping associations, maritime companies to develop greater efficiency.” Munera referred to logistical problems in doing trade. “If you want to buy goods from Cartagena in Colombia, how will you get it to Port-of-Spain? Not many big international companies will do it, but there are small companies who will do it. In the past, we did not know how many companies were doing that until we did the Map of the Maritime Route. Only now we are beginning to see how many companies are doing it, what routes they use and so on. We can use this information to expand business,” he said. Referring to the Panama Canal, Munera said it will change the way the maritime industry operates. “After the expansion of the Panama Canal, some exports will serve as an intermediary and some big companies as well small companies will be doing more business. The post-Panama expansion ships will not be able to get through the Caribbean ports, it will be special ships doing this.”
Map of Maritime Route
Fontanaud said the Map of Maritime Route of the Greater Caribbean project was created as a database to allow exporters and importers to easily locate shipping lines and the most accessible maritime routes. This software was developed by the Central American Commission on Maritime Transport (COCATRAM), the Ministry of Transport of Cuba and AMP. The link is available on the Web site of the ACS and has been online since 2011. “The main targets are the importers and exporters of the region. It gives free information on transport services, the frequency of ships. The information is updated every few months. If you are a T&T exporter and you want to export to Guyana, you enter in to the programme. It gives a list of all the companies that transport between the two countries. You can obtain information on the frequency of the ships. You can obtain all the information of the companies, like e-mail addresses, phone contacts and other information,” he said. Fontanaud said statistics show 90 per cent of the trade in the region is by maritime transport. “This is the main way of transporting goods. So we can know when, how and what companies we can trader with in the region. The information on the site says that there are a total of 185 regular maritime transportation services, and these are guaranteed by 61 shipping lines operating 764 vessels stopping at 92 ports in 41 countries,” he said. Users of the online service find the information to be “very positive” said Fontanaud.
Fontanaud said a group of six countries will meet on how to improve air connectivity in the region and these countries are Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, T&T, Panama and Suriname. “What the ASC has been doing is to promote co-operation between the air transport operators in the region. An agreement has been signed and ratified by most of the countries in the region to facilitate air transport and connectivity.” Fontanaud added the ASC wants to see the region united by air and sea. “We have programmes to better improve the connectivity by maritime transport and there are other programmes for air connectivity.” Múnera said member sates and governments have for years been talking about how to connect by air more efficiently.
“We all know it is difficult from one country to another. From Cartagena to the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean takes one day. In the 1940s and 1950s, it was easier to come to the Caribbean. Every week you had ships to the Caribbean from Colombia. You had students coming to the Agriculture College in Trinidad from Latin America.” Times have changed. “It is the way that the world is organised now and in the way transnational companies organise transportation and maritime communication. These traditional routes we used before have been lost, but we must recover these routes and find a better way to do things. I think COPA is doing a good job in terms of getting together the Caribbean routes.”
Bio of Alfonso Múnera Cavadia
Profession: Historian and diplomat
Secretary General, Association of Caribbean States
2009-2010: Special ambassador to the Caribbean
1999-2003: Colombian ambassador in Jamaica
1995: Phd in Latin American and US history
University of Connecticut, US
1993: Masters in history, University of Connecticut, US
1981: Law and political science, University of Cartagena