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Improved logistics links crucial to Caribbean economic growth, UN conference hears

John Manners-Bell, Chief Executive of Ti Insight and Founder of the Foundation of Future Supply Chain, recently spoke and moderated a panel at the United Nations Global Supply Chain Forum in Barbados. One of the aims of the conference was to identify action-oriented recommendations, setting out how stakeholders and policy makers from transport and trade could better understand the evolving trading and shipping landscape, address the underlying challenges and leverage the associated opportunities.


In his preliminary remarks, Manners-Bell commented that the transformation of the global supply chain environment and a combination of political, environmental and economic factors presented the Caribbean region with a range of systemic risks. He mentioned that Small Island Developing States (SIDS) had suffered significantly in the past from natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, volcanic eruptions and Covid had severely impacted societies and economies in the region. Climate change was also having an impact through reduced volumes of ships through the Panama Canal and even the disruption of the Suez Canal was having an effect.


Despite this, when he took a poll of audience opinion, the majority of those present responded that they were optimistic about prospects for the future, although there was a significant minority who expressed the view that risks outweighed the benefits.

This view was echoed across the panel of industry experts. One panellist, for instance, talked about being ‘guardedly optimistic’ although greater levels of coordination across the region were required. The consolidation in the shipping industry around a small number of shipping lines and larger vessels was regarded as a particular threat.


Manners-Bell also asked the audience whether they believed that near-shoring would be a driver for future economic growth. There was a unanimous ‘no’ from the audience, although the view of the panel was more nuanced. They believed that there could be opportunities accruing to countries in the Caribbean, but these would not be as great as in countries such as Mexico where manufacturing eco-systems already existed. Instead, the biggest opportunities would be in ancillary services. One panellist commented that it was all about ‘getting the right pieces in place’.


At the conclusion of the session, Manners-Bell asked the panel to identify specific recommendations which could be taken to government ministers attending the forum. These included:


  1. Trade facilitation must be a priority, with one system across the entire region. However, it was admitted that the prospects of having a single document to facilitate the movement of goods between Caribbean countries was ‘not close’.

  2. There should be a region-wide logistics strategy including public/private investment in shipping hubs.

  3. A shipping ‘centre of excellence’ should be created, putting training of logistics workers at the heart of any development plans.

  4. Foreign investment should be encouraged and facilitated which would ultimately drive down logistics costs.

  5. There must be more efforts to standardise rules across the region reducing the administrative burden on shippers and logistics providers.

 

Manners-Bell commented, ‘It is clear that the supply chain and logistics industry knows what needs to be done to stimulate economic growth across the Caribbean region as well as improve resilience. However, it will need resolve, collaboration between private and public sector, investment and the sweeping away of unnecessary trade rules. The development of logistics hubs and improved freight services, including cool chain, could facilitate growth of the manufacturing sector and allow the region to become far more self-sufficient.’



Despite clarity at an industry level, there needs to be a real desire to make the reforms. Whether politicians throughout the fragmented Caribbean region are willing to take a more ‘joined up’ approach to trade and logistics is yet to be seen.

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