10 August 2008

Let them eat Croissants!

John Maxwell

‘ First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win’

– Mohandas K Gandhi.

It’s not just us.

The world really is over-supplied with jackasses.

We are pretty good at making fools of ourselves but we have lots of company.

The Jamaican Port Authority , along with the UDC, are our leading competitors in the World Olympics of Waste and Futile Activity (WOWAFA.)

As everybody but the Port Authority knows, fuel prices are making mincemeat of globalisation and world trade.

Distance costs money, as Jeff Rubin of CIBC World Markets (CIBCWM) points out. Rubin is one of the world’s most trusted economic prognosticators and has recently published an analysis of the effect of transport costs on world trade. There seem to be no serious critics of his conclusions.

Rubin/CIBCWM report that the cost of shipping a standard 40-foot container from East Asia to the North American east coast has already tripled since 2000 and will double again as oil prices head towards US$200 per barrel over the next two years These soaring energy costs are threatening to offset decades of trade liberalization and force some overseas manufacturing to return closer to North AmericA.

“Unless that container is chock full of diamonds, its shipping costs have suddenly inflated the cost of whatever is inside," adds Mr. Rubin. "And those inflated costs get passed onto the Consumer Price Index when you buy that good at your local retailer. As oil prices keep rising, pretty soon those transport costs start cancelling out the East Asian wage advantage."

The Port Authority’s development plans are predicated on the permanence of the East Asian wage advantage. The Authority believes that for the foreseeable future, enormous container ships from China and the rest of Asia will provide an assured agency income for Jamaica. We simply have to destroy the environment of Kingston Harbour to build an enormous container transshipment port and the riches will flood in.

Mr Rubin says, on the other hand, that oil prices and transport costs will soon cancel out the advantages of low-wage driven globalisation. “"Higher energy prices are impacting transport costs at an unprecedented rate. So much so, that the cost of moving goods, not the cost of tariffs, is the largest barrier to global trade today."

Rubin points out that Chinese steel, which has for years rendered US steel production uncompetitive, is now, suddenly, uncompetitive in the US market and imports are now falling by more than 20% year over year while US steel production has risen by almost 10%.

So, the Port Authority of Jamaica is proposing to squander more than a billion Jamaican dollars on the next stage of its Hunt’s bay reclamation project. Earlier phases consisted of relocating toxic waste from the bottom of Kingston Harbour to newly created land adjacent to Portmore – the world’s first known instance of the deliberate creation of what in the US would be called a Superfund site, a toxic health menace.

All of this has been done out of public view, with public money, with no parliamentary oversight, no Environmental Impact Assessment, no information to the public on the health or financial dangers implicit in this development.

It is nearly a decade since i first warned about these lunatic schemes, about the same time as I was warning about the environmental and financial disaster built into the Doomsday Highway.

We in Jamaica are experts at expensive and futile unsustainable developments, we are only now understanding the price we are paying for bauxite development and we have just begun paying the real price for the Doomsday Highway.

The Gleaner Business section, on Independence Day, on the page after the Port Authority story, carries a discreet story which should have been on the front page

“Jamaica giving up on export bananas” was the headline, written no doubt, by a descendant of Christopher Columbus.

We have been talking about the idiocy of trying to export factory farmed bananas and sugar, We have recommended getting out of those ratholes voluntarily and finding alternative and better options while we had time.

We could have used the time to restructure our farming and revitalising family farms. We need to use our land to grow food, not to produce profits to be lodged in Liechtenstein or Cayman.

But we are not done. The elites who know everything are busy recommending that we sign the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the European Union for some glorious globalised benefits for the fifty or sixty companies engaged in the moronic slavery-based production of sugar. The head of the Caribbean Regional Negotiating Machinery says that if all the Caribbean ‘partners do not sign the whole deal may be off.

I haven’t heard better news for years.

We were being asked to swallow agreements negotiated for the benefit of finance houses and antagonistic to the public interest. Only Guyana has the nerve to say that the agreements are an unfair disaster. One hopes that the Guyanese will not sign and thereby derail the whole corrupt process. Corrupt, because the people have had not the slightest say in agreements which will bind them for decades if not centuries. Not only do we not have any say, we don’t even know what’s in these agreements.

In the Observer on Emancipation Day there is news that light may be dawning in certain quarters. It has been discovered that we have a tourist industry which can be a reliable market for home grown, organically produced cosmetics. In a decade or two it will become obvious that the same possibilities exist for locally produced food. Despite some recent easing in the the inexorably rising price of oil, the Jamaican farmer (an almost extinct species) will soon have serious advantages in the national and regional markets as well as in niche markets abroad.

What would make sense is for us to turn these massive investments in crazy schemes into investments in more practical plans. Solar energy for one – photovoltaic arrays on some of the lands made worthless by bauxite mining, on offshore wind turbines and on submarine wave generators using the energy of the perpetual currents of the North Atlantic drift passing through the waters north and south of this island.

In Portugal, a relatively poor country which, like Jamaica, imports nearly all its energy, the world’s largest photovoltaic electricity generating plant is about to go on stream. It will have taken four years from start to finish and will provide Portugal with electricity from the sun at prices competitive with thermally generated energy.

The new facility at Moura in Alentejo in Southern Portugal covers 700 acres, about as much as the Port Authority’s installation in Kingston.

At 250 million euro the cost of the Moura plant is about the same as the cost of the Port Authority’s Phase Five expansion .

At 65 MegaWatts, it ‘s capacity would be about one quarter of the installed capacity at the JPS Old Harbour Bay power station. Construction costs are about the same as thermal generation units but the big difference is that after the station is built the fuel is free sunlight, making an immediate and serious dent in money to be found to import petroleum. An additional bonus is that the Portuguese – as part of the development– require the contractors to build a plant to manufacture photovoltaic modules providing good local jobs and skills. And since photovoltaic power stations can be built almost anywhere, transmission costs and problems are minimised.

Wonder of Wonders

“EU to give Haiti millions for food, health care” is the headline over a story from Brussels, Belgium (AP) — ”The European Union says it will give Haiti $4.6 million to help pay for food in the world's poorest country.”

Millions, think of it – Millions! It will buy an enormous number of mud cakes.

The munificence and self sacrifice of the Europeans is astounding. It will amount to the stupendous sum of about fifty cents per Haitian.

Parliament should pass a vote of thanks.

Some of Haiti’s other predators, including USAID, are providing similar pittances to rescue Haiti from destitution and desperation. The coordinator of the anti-Aristide coup, Senator John McCain’s International Republican Institute has not said whether it will contribute to the recovery process. Perhaps the Haitians should be paying them for their good works. The Haitians paid France about 25 billion dollars in modern money to be allowed to trade freely after winning their war of independence.

It is a safe bet that none of the people responsible for the decapitation of Haitian democracy will contribute as much to its rehabilitation as they did to its rape. It is as if a man who has just comprehensively violated a woman, should turn round, and out of the simple goodness of his heart, buy her a croissant.

Copyright©2008 John Maxwell


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