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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Jamaica says Chinese company would build coal plant to power proposed transshipment port

KINGSTON, Jamaica - A Chinese company wants to build its own coal-fired plant in southern Jamaica to generate the power needed for a hoped-for $1.5 billion port that the Caribbean island envisions as helping transform its chronically sluggish economy.

During an update to Parliament, Transport and Works Minister Omar Davies said China Harbour Engineering Co. aims to power the transshipment port with coal "to provide lower cost electricity for the project." Jamaicans pay 42 cents per kilowatt hour.

The Chinese company aims to develop a transshipment port in a swath of southern Jamaica that would lure the deep-drafting ships expected to travel through the Panama Canal when its expansion is completed.

It is a key part of a development strategy Jamaica hopes would transform the island into a global logistical hub in coming years. Blueprints also call for an expansion of Jamaica's existing container terminal, airports and roads while the government creates special economic zones to lure companies and usher the island into the global supply chain.

The Chinese company has already applied for a license with Jamaica's environmental agency to begin geotechnical work in the Portland Bight area in southern Jamaica.

An environmental impact assessment still needs to done to green-light the port project in coastal Portland Bight, home to the island's biggest protected area. Davies said tax incentives, a review of citizenship laws for investors, land acquisition and authorization for the coal-fired plant also had to be addressed before any agreement could be signed.

If agreements are concluded within a year, Davies said, the China-financed port would likely not be operational for an additional four years. But he said nearby Kingston's existing container port, which is expected to be privatized and turned over to an international operator soon, would be able to handle increased shipping traffic from the Panama Canal in the meantime.

Davies warned lawmakers that regional competitors are "already embarking on similar plans."

Political leaders of Trinidad & Tobago are currently in China trying to expedite a deal to develop a transshipment port, dry dock and construction of several economic zones.

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David McFadden on Twitter: http://twitter.com/dmcfadd

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