Could Cuba become a new Caribbean transshipment hub? After all, it’s only 90 miles from the United States and has an abundance of labor to work in ports.
Maybe someday, but not yet. For now, it’s still under U.S. trade sanctions that forbid any trade except humanitarian shipments of food and medicine.
But at least one terminal operator is looking to the day when U.S.-Cuba relations improve enough to normalize trade. With little fanfare, Singapore-based PSA signed an agreement in July to manage and operate a new container terminal that the Cuban military is building at the Port of Mariel, 28 miles west of Havana.
“Cuba could become a transshipment center for east-west and north-south services as well when trade relations with the U.S. are normalized, which will happen at some point in our lifetime,” said John Martin, principal of port consultant Martin Associates. “Cuba presents a tremendous opportunity to transship into the U.S.”
PSA International won the bid to manage the terminal last year and had been in negotiations with Mariel developer Zona de Desarrollo Integral de Mariel. PSA will not invest in the terminal, but is participating in planning the terminal, which is scheduled to open in 2014.
Brazil has pledged $800 million to finance construction of infrastructure and port facilities already under way in conjunction with the Odebrecht group, Brazil’s largest construction and engineering firm.
Of this amount, $400 million in financing already has been disbursed and another $200 million approved. An additional loan is under consideration.
The Port of Mariel will handle vessels with up to a 49-foot draft and have an annual capacity of 850,000 to 1 million containers, compared with Havana’s 350,000.
The Mariel terminal, which will have an initial 1,295 feet of berth, is ideally situated to handle U.S. cargo if the American trade embargo is lifted, and will receive U.S. food exports already flowing into the country under a 2000 amendment to sanctions.
The terminal is part of a larger program to develop Mariel Bay into Cuba’s most important cargo hub and center of light manufacturing. The bay is one of the country’s finest along the northern coast. The port is destined to replace Havana, the country’s main port, over the coming years.
Plans through 2022 call for Mariel to house logistics facilities for offshore oil exploration and development, the container terminal, general cargo and bulk foods facilities and a Special Economic Zone for light manufacturing and storage.