What is ZIM's history in Jamaica?
We started here in 1973, when the company decided to go into the container business. ZIM was actually established in 1945; we started bringing passengers mainly from Europe, and later on we went into the cargo business. In 1973, we were amongst the pioneers in container shipping, and Jamaica was an important hub for us from the beginning. We are still the only carrier with a constant, ongoing presence here, supporting the country's economy.
What sets you apart from your competitors?
Our most important asset is our people, because they learn how to work in an international environment and provide a great service whenever we need it. We always strive to be more efficient, which ultimately means providing better customer service. Behind every container is a customer seeking a personal touch. ZIM is also unique because, as an independent carrier, we have significant advantages it terms of flexibility of operation and tailor-made customer service.
How do you use Jamaica as a hub?
We focus mainly on the east-west trade that comes from the Middle East and Asia and goes toward the east coast of the US, the Caribbean, South America, and the US Gulf. Ships from the Panama Canal go to the main market, mainly to Miami, Savannah, Norfolk, New York, and Halifax. Kingston is right by the main shipping lines and has deep waters that allow fully loaded ships to enter the country. The Caribbean is also in the center of our network, making Kingston the second-largest hub for the company, and we need to have a great network to be able to send cargo throughout this network as fast as possible. During the 1970s, we realized the great potential of the small islands and the countries surrounding the Caribbean. It was clear at that time that large vessels were not able to go to many of the ports because there were many restrictions and limitations. The Caribbean is considered a secondary market, with the main market being the east coast of the US, and vessels need to arrive at their final destination as soon as possible. We function almost like a traffic light—vessels stop, discharge their cargo, and continue on their ways again. We have the fastest record of splitting cargo to send to the Caribbean.
How will your activities benefit from the expansion of the port?
We established, in 2006, a logistics company called Kingston Logistics Center. We already realized the huge potential for that market years ago and decided to form a partnership with a local player and to work with the government. We are hoping to facilitate a more strategic positioning of Jamaica as a logistics hub. There is a lot cargo that is to the Caribbean, but to Jamaica because the authorities are more concerned with fees than increasing ease of doing business. Everybody is trying to make money out of it; however, we have to compete with Panama and the Dominican Republic, and unfortunately, we are far more expensive in terms of costs compared to them. There are many customs fees hindering the creation of new jobs. Many containers are choosing to go to other places due to Jamaica's high fees. The existing government is working to make some changes, and once they are established, we will increase our market share.
What more should be done for Jamaica to become a logistics hub?
We need to consider three points. It has to be an easy place to do business, there must be fast and reliable services, and we need to be cost competitive. Currently, Jamaica has low marks in all three areas. When these start to change, I am sure we will see more business in the country.