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Editorial: Was the Goat Islands project killed?

Published:Monday | June 15, 2015 | 6:00 AM

There is as yet no obvious hoisting of the white flag on the part of the Simpson Miller administration. But judging from how quiet they have gone on the matter, the proposers of the Goat Islands logistics hub project have been battered into submission.

The issue, however, is in need of clarity. For, if we are right, an estimated US$1.5 billion in investment - the largest ever on a single project in the island's history - and thousands of jobs have been lost to Jamaica. So, too, has been a potential driver of the country's long-term growth and economic development.

The Goat Islands project was first broached more than two years ago - an initiative by the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) to develop port, manufacturing, storage and other logistics-related facilities on two small, uninhabited islands off Jamaica's south coast, which would be linked to the mainland by causeways.

Should the project be built, it would fit within the Government's strategy to transform Jamaica into a global logistics centre to take advantage of the US$5.25-billion expansion of the Panama Canal to accommodate today's new mega ships, and the plan for a new Chinese-financed waterway in Nicaragua that would take even larger vessels. Perchance the idea survives, it would be as much an acceptance of its logic as a mark of the persuasive skills of the Simpson Miller administration and of the quality of the political relationship between Jamaica and China.

From the start, it was subjected to attacks from environmental extremists, portrayed as a dismantling and degradation of the broad Portland Bight Protected Area. But in a strange conflation, jingoism became a substitute for science and economics.

So, the Goat Islands project became a metaphor of hordes of Chinese storming across Jamaica, laying waste to the land in conquest, and installing themselves as overlords of a newly enslaved people. CHEC, fighting to complete its other Jamaican projects, including the US$650-million north-south highway, seems unwilling to maintain a battle on another front.

 

AMERICAS HEADQUARTERS

 

The company had established Jamaica as its Americas headquarters, and that may nominally still be the case. But it is to be noted that it has shifted much of its operations, including equipment and staff, to Panama where it says it is gone in search of logics-related and other construction projects. And these days, CHEC, like the Government, says little to nothing about the Goat Islands proposal.

This newspaper would not be surprised if CHEC and other Chinese-related entities that previously contemplated involvement with Goat Islands now turn up for business at Cuba's new Mariel Port and logistics facility which recently opened, but whose build-out will continue over the next decade.

And this is not the only game in town. The Chinese billionaire Wang Jing has begun preliminary work on his proposed US$50-billion, 173-mile canal in Nicaragua linking the Atlantic and the Pacific, as an alternative to the one in Panama. Investors need not wait around for Jamaica as its economic Luddites romanticise and attempt to make a virtue of poverty. In which event, if the Goat Islands plan is really dead, they should raise a dark toast.