Honduran President Visits
Bilateral talks that began in early August between the Progressives-led Government and officials from Honduras, continued Friday when Honduran President Hon. Juan Orlando Hernandez and a delegation flew to Grand Cayman for a brief visit.
“This visit confirms the sincerity that our two Governments have concerning the issues of direct importation of seafood and produce and the opening of direct flights from Grand Cayman to Roatan among other things,” said Cayman Islands Premier Hon. Alden McLaughlin.
A Cayman Islands delegation led by Mr. McLaughlin and Deputy Premier Hon. Moses Kirkconnell made a whirlwind day trip in early August to begin discussions between the two Governments. At the end of that meeting Honduran officials vowed to make a trek to Grand Cayman within weeks.
Friday’s visit was result of that promise and talks are expected to continue, said Mr. Hernandez.
On Friday the Cayman and Honduran delegation delved deeper into the issues air transportation, importation of goods from Honduras to Cayman and an undersea telecommunications cable.
Mr. Hernandez said he likes the idea of increasing flights to and from Honduras and the Cayman Islands.
“This has tremendous potential between Cayman Airways, Grand Cayman and Honduras,” he said at a roundtable meeting at the Government Administration Building Friday. “It is very important that we have a strategic alliance that will be a win-win for us.”
Mr. Kirkconnell said that since the initial meeting in Roatan his Ministry has been talking with private sector businesses to discuss the logistics of increasing Cayman Airways airlift to and from Honduras. CAL flies to La Ceiba three times a week now and travellers traverse through Grand Cayman to continue on to New York, Miami and Kingston, Jamaica. Many of those passengers are business people, he said.
“The opportunities we’ve seen in creating a small hub in the Cayman Islands are coming to fruition,” he said.
Mr. Kirkconnell reiterated what he told the group in Roatan that Cayman Airways already has the expertise, the equipment and shortly will have the newest fleet in the region.
Cayman Airways is replacing its four 737-300 airplanes, all of which range in age from 15 to 20 years, with new 737-Max planes. The fleet modernisation is expected to be complete by 2020. The new fleet will be more fuel efficient allowing for longer distances and increased passenger and cargo capacity.
Mr. Hernandez said Honduran Sosa Airlines would also like to begin flying into the Cayman Islands to further improve Cayman as a hub.
“We are not trying to compete with Cayman Airways,” he said. “We want to create connectivity in which you feel confident and we feel confident.”
Mr. Kirkconnell said Cayman Airways would be interested in discussing with other airlines how they can help support the Cayman hub.
Creating Grand Cayman as a hub for Honduras flights could mean cheaper flights from Honduras to Miami, said Honduran Secretary of State for Investment Hon. Luis Mata. Mr. Mata also asked about the possibility of eliminating visa requirements for Hondurans coming to Cayman and Caymanians going to Honduras.
“It is definitely something to look into,” said Mr. McLaughlin. “But it is something that is difficult to navigate because of national security. The United Kingdom would have to weigh in. If there is the volume of business to justify it we can expand our visa office.”
The Cayman Islands is already an in-transit facility meaning passengers traversing to another destination are not required to clear immigration.
The group also discussed getting fresh produce, meat and seafood from Honduras directly to the Cayman Islands by both air and sea. Honduras already exports those goods to Cayman, but the shipments go through Miami before being forwarded here.
Mr. Kirkconnell said Government would reach out to local importers with all of the information that was gained from Friday’s meetings.
Honduras Economic Minister Hon. Arnaldo Castillo said Honduras already ships many products including chicken, eggs, and vegetables to Canada, the United States and Europe and is the world’s largest supplier of sweet potatoes and bell peppers.
Government is also investing in the areas of exportation of chocolate, cacao, goats and lambs, said Mr. Hernandez.
“The idea is to combine the transportation of food with people” to the Cayman Islands, he said. “The Cayman Islands can also help us with the private sector to send goods on to other countries.”
Once the logistics of air travel and food importation are worked out, the two governments have agreed to find ways to fast-track the systems.
While in Cayman the Honduras delegation was invited to attend the 14th annual Caribbean Week of Agriculture, which will be held in Grand Cayman from 24-28 October under the theme “Investing in Food and Agriculture.”
Part of the conference will feature the wide range of high quality goods and services available throughout the Caribbean region. Exhibitors from across the region will meet and network with restaurants, hoteliers, wholesalers, retailers and consumers.
Mr. Mata said Honduras will participate with a booth. The governments agreed to form a working group so that local importers and Honduran exporters and farmers can get the maximum benefit not only for the conference, but for future trade.
The Honduran delegation was also given information about the Cayman Islands Information and Communications Technology Authority, which is interested in talking to Honduras about another undersea telecoms cable between Cayman, Honduras and Miami to help improve communication in the Cayman Islands.