Shipping Companies Finally Seeing Relief For Haiti Shipments
By Shearon Roberts
Miami River businesses shipping cargo to Haiti are finally seeing a cutback in time spent clearing customs, a process that almost crippled a once-healthy and vibrant trade to the island from South Florida.
Last month, the shipping woes forced a few smaller shipping concerns to close, while larger operators stopped shipping to Haiti. New port regulations via a government regime change caused cargo to take longer than a month to clear the port, rotting perishable cargo and deterring vessels from making steady trips to the island.
"Putting this new regulation to work made the process very lengthy and was keeping the ships on the port for too long and was resulting in a loss of money for the shipping companies," said Ralph Latortue, consul general for the Haitian Consulate office in Miami. "I believe that cost them tens of thousands of dollars a day. That’s a lot of money to lose."
Mr. Latortue helped initiate dialogue between Miami River businesses and the Haitian government as the backlog came to a head earlier this year. Haiti’s attempt to implement new port policies allowed the country to streamline its imports after years of backdoor deals that concealed illicit trade and allowed port workers to pocket custom fees.
The new process asked shippers to provide extensive documentation on arrival to a Haitian port, such as a bill of lading for shipping lines, an importing license, proof of an independent cargo inspection and statement of cargo value.
Initially, the Haitian government centralized its processing at the largest port in Port-au-Prince, while shippers needed to deliver goods to the second largest port at Cap Haitien or smaller ones such as Port of Gonaives, Port-de-Paix and Port of Miragoane. This meant that once shipments arrived at secondary ports, shippers would have to wait or leave their goods at the ports while port workers took their documentation back to Port-au-Prince for verification and then returned them to the other ports before clearing the goods.
Since the intervention, and subsequent loss to Miami River businesses, the Haitian government has trained workers to process the documents at the local ports.
"It used to be a few days. Then when the new process started it was taking as long as 30 to 35 days" said Richard Dubin, vice president of Miami-based Haiti Shipping Lines. "Now you’re able to do it in the local ports. There, it’s about 7 to 14 days to get your goods cleared, which I think is pretty reasonable."
The processing times have sped up, in part because port workers are better trained, but also because ship calls have dropped, said Munir Mourra, a Miami River shipping terminal operator and chair of the Miami-based Haitian-American Chamber of Commerce of Florida.
Mr. Mourra’s own business on the river, River Terminal Services, along with others, have cutback their operations about 50%. His business, which used to ship to Haiti two or three times a month, now goes there only once a month.
While some businesses on the river, such as Frontier Line Services, no longer ship to Haiti and others, such as Trans-Caribbean Shipping, closed down just last week, Mr. Mourra said he and others will stick it out. They hope the worst is over as the government works to make trade with Haiti better and effective.