A new shipping arrangement with a major Guatemalan port might spell trouble for the Port of Belize and end its long held monopoly on general cargo shipments into the country.
But more than that, it might mean lower freight prices, which would welcome news for the shipping industry in Belize.
An article published today, in the Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre states that the country's government owned port of Santo Tomas in Puerto Barrios is in the final stages of signing an agreement with officials from the privately owned Big Creek Port to establish shipping links between the two countries.
The arrangement calls for the initial movement of 50 to 60 containers bi-monthly between the two countries port facilities. Officials from both countries have been in discussions since last May, and only a little over a week ago, executives from the Big Creek port were in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala touring the port facilities at Santo Tomas.
Exactly a year ago, we reported on a major investment of 30 Million dollars in the upgrading of the Big Creek port that would put it in major competition with the Belize Port. But with all the upgrading and this new shipping arrangement with Guatemala, can Big Creek compete with the Belize Port? Jim McFadzean posed that question to Big Creek Port's Operations Manager, Gustavo Carillo.
Voice of: Gustavo Carrillio- Operations Manager, Big Creek Port
"We basically want to move from here to Santo Tomas, like 50 containers - 50 forty-foot containers per trip. And the reason for that is that there is a lot of cargo that comes through Santo Tomas, for Belize, which comes via land, and we could bring it through Big Creek Port which will be a lot safer and faster."
"And more economical I assume..."
"More economical - what happens, Santo Tomas, as you know, is a hub. You have connections to Ports worldwide. And if we could create a feeder service between Big Creek and Santo Tomas, and we could link up with the vessels that go to Europe or the Far East through the other ports, then we could ship cargo. We have shrimp, citrus."
"Are you seeing interests coming out of those shipping companies that have been going through Miami - are they seeking some sort of alternative?"
"Yes, I could say yes. For example, you have cargo that goes from Belize over land to Puerto Quetzal, and to the Far East. If we could bring it through Big Creek, through Puerto Barrios, Through Quetzal, it would be more economical for these people."
"Would you be able to compete effectively, when it comes to cost, with the Port of Belize?"
"Definitely, because we are at a disadvantage with the inland trade, but always look everything from Belmopan to Punta Gorda will be an advantage. They disadvantage would be from Belmopan onwards. At the same time, we have a dredging program that we are doing. We want to dredge the channel to about 11 meters. Also the Turning Basin, we are building a culvert. When all this is over, we'll be able to accommodate a vessel about 225 meters."
"Which would allow you to compete with shipping going through Miami?"
"Yes, we'd be able to compete with vessel in the general area, vessels that could not come to the port in Belize, would be able to port at Big Creek."
The trade is expected to get underway sometime early next month.