Interview: Ashley Taylor

What is the strategy for attracting new trans-shipment business to Trinidad and Tobago?

ASHLEY TAYLOR: I believe that T&T’s ports, by virtue of their skilled workforce, can compete with any other port globally. The area of key emphasis is now on infrastructure and equipment. Attracting trans-shipment business to generate exponential growth cannot be done without the necessary infrastructure to facilitate it. Currently, the Port of Point Lisas can accommodate vessels up to 200 metres long with a capacity of 2000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), which does not compare very well with ports such as Kingston in Jamaica, Caucedo in the Dominican Republic, or Nassau in the Bahamas. That being said, we do not see T&T competing in the same market as those ports, which depend on volumes destined for the US East coast. The incentives we provide international carriers are a premium location in close proximity to the Caribbean and Latin America, stable government, a highly educated and trained workforce, and technologically advanced systems such as the new version of NAVIS which is soon to be implemented.

How will the Panama Canal expansion impact the Caribbean market for containerised cargo?

TAYLOR: We project a cascading effect with respect to the size of the vessels that call into this part of the region. The smaller vessels will be gradually taken out of rotation and newer vessels will be introduced, resulting in current main liners becoming feeders and the new vessels becoming the main liners. The latter are the kind of vessels we are looking to attract and are in the region of 5000-7000 TEUs in size. In 2015 Point Lisas’s throughput for containerised volumes was around 221,000 TEUs. We have seen a constant increase over the years due to positive developments in the economy and growth in market share. Going forward, we do not see substantial growth potential to be associated with domestic cargo or trans-shipment for the minor ports of the Caribbean, but rather in the growth of Latin American markets such as Brazil. Trans-shipment today represents around 20% of our containerised volumes, but we believe we can bring this figure to 40% over the next few years.

What upgrades are necessary to raise the nation’s ports to international standards?

TAYLOR: Both container ports need to improve their level of infrastructure, plus benefit from the country’s laws in relation to labour, shipping and Customs. A deep reform of Customs was among the plans of the government prior to 2010 and it is anticipated that the new administration will put the mechanisms into place to make this a reality. In terms of infrastructure, Point Lisas is planning to upgrade its capacity through a phased expansion programme that will lead us to pass the 1m TEU capacity mark over a 10-to 15-year horizon. In the first phase we are looking to add another 150 to 200 metres in berth length to reach a capacity of 500,000 TEUs. Once the project design, financing structure and engineering consulting is finalised, we estimate the construction phase to be completed within 36 months. For this phase the investment cost is not expected to surpass $100m.

How can PLIPDECO’s tenant base diversify into new non-energy ventures?

TAYLOR: To improve the attractiveness of our location we are trying to position ourselves as a logistics centre, where light manufacturing, consolidation, repackaging and relabelling of cargo can take place for onward movement to other destinations. We have identified the land space in proximity to the port to accommodate the warehousing systems. This, we believe, could also represent a substantial contribution to the diversification of T&T’s economy, with the ultimate aim of positioning the country as a logistics hub, in much the same way that Panama has done.