Why Justin Trudeau broadened his trade agenda to include ‘dusty penny’ Jamaica
Trade Minister Mary Ng’s schedule this year suggests that she’s hunting for big game. She visited Washington, D.C., the capital of Canada’s eternal trading partner, at the end of February, and toured India and the Middle East in March before launching trade talks with the United Kingdom later that month.
So, her trip to Jamaica last month stood out as a curiosity. The Caribbean nation isn’t exactly an economic powerhouse. Its gross domestic product in 2020 was $13.8 billion, which is not negligible, but minuscule compared with the $30 trillion annual GDP of Canada’s main trading partner, the United States. But the island has strong cultural industries, and is known for reggae (popularized by Bob Marley); track and field domination; Rastafarianism; jerk chicken and Jamaican patties. That’s exactly why Ng, mandated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to diversify Canada’s portfolio of trade partners, was smart to work Jamaica into her agenda, said Jamaican-Canadian billionaire Michael Lee-Chin. “What most people do, is they gravitate toward shiny penny,” Lee-Chin said in an interview. “Instead of saying, ‘Hm, there’s a penny there that is a little bit dusty’ … It doesn’t take much to dust it off to become shiny,” he continued. “It’s going from dusty to shiny — in that process — that you create a lot of wealth.”
Lee-Chin, chief executive of Burlington, Ont.-based Portland Holdings Inc., is worth some $1.9 billion, according to Forbes, making him the 42nd wealthiest Canadian. In Canada, he is known for his philanthropy, most notably a $30-million donation to the Royal Ontario Museum, which resulted in the Michael Lee-Chin crystal. In Jamaica, he has invested in telecommunications, insurance, asset management, and elsewhere, and is owner of Jamaica’s largest bank, National Commercial Bank Jamaica Ltd., which competes with Bank of Nova Scotia’s 132-year-old Jamaican unit.
Meet the New Logistics Capital of the Caribbean
For decades, Jamaica has made a name for itself as a Caribbean haven for business process outsourcing operations of companies from around the world.
Now, Jamaica wants the rest of the world to know that this island nation is also a safe harbor for transportation and logistics operations of port-related shipping and trade.
With 14 seaports and three container terminals, Jamaica represents one of the most important waystations in the Caribbean. Its proximity to the Panama Canal and the U.S. gives this English-speaking country of 3 million people a strategic advantage. Jamaica also offers the ability to accommodate the larger post-Panamax vessels.
Jamaica hopes to widen its competitive advantage through a series of large-scale infrastructure investments designed to increase trade and recruit foreign direct investment to places like Kingston, Montego Bay and Port Antonio.
Two of the more significant investments coming online are the Caymanas Special Economic Zone and the Kingston Logistics Park. The Caymanas SEZ in Kingston is a 10,000-acre master-planned community that is designed to become the premier economic zone on the island. The KLP is a new world-class logistics park on 80 acres that has the ability to integrate global supply chain operations due to its proximity to the Norman Manley International Airport.
The Caymanas Special Economic Zone (CSEZ) is a project of the Government of Jamaica and will feature land set aside for residential, commercial, retail, entertainment, hospitality, educational, health, recreational and industrial uses. CSEZ South will be a flagship industrial park of 583 acres and will cater to tenants with port operations at the Port of Kingston. All CSEZ facilities will be state-of-the-art and be constructed using green technologies.