The value of limestone exports has been on the decline in recent years, but state marketing agency Jampro sees a path to a turnaround that rests on enticing investors to manufacture intermediate products from the mineral-rich aggregate.
Jamaica exports limestone to the United States and the Caribbean region, but trade has skidded from US$3.6 million pre-pandemic to US$2.2 million, the most recent data from Statin up to year 2021 shows.
However, a primary player in the market, Lydford Mining, has landed new contracts in the United States, which, last year, shipped 36,000 metric tonnes of stone to Savannah, Georgia, to be used in the production of concrete aggregates, likely giving fillip to the 2022 data on export earnings.
Jampro said the shipment represented the start of a series of regular shipments into the south-eastern United States markets.
But the agency also noted that lifting the performance of limestone and the aggregates sector over the long term requires greater focus on downstream production, an area in which Jamaica currently has limited activity within the “high value-added” segment.
In fact, the value-added segment of the aggregates market is in its infancy, according to research done by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
“The majority of operators are developing products; however, they are products at the lower end of the value chain. Opportunity exists to move to the higher end of the value chain given the grade of limestone in Jamaica,” the PwC report noted.
Jampro’s Manager for manufacturing, logistics and Special Economic Zones, Berletta Henlon Lee, told the Financial Gleaner that segments showing growth were in the broad category of construction aggregates for support infrastructure and commercial and residential development projects.
Most quarry operators in Jamaica produce marl and stone, which are considered low value-added products. These are ground limestone of various sizes and require little modification. A subset of operators, about three or four, is engaged in exporting.
Henlon Lee said that beyond construction material, Jampro is trying to prod businesses to enter manufacturing “so that Jamaica can secure greater value from this abundant natural resource both through exports and local linkages”.
That abundance of reserves is estimated at 150 billion tonnes of limestone, of which 50 billion tonnes is recoverable, according to research done for Jampro by Dr Conrad Douglas of Conrad Douglas and Associates a decade ago.
The value-added segment would include the processing of ground calcium carbonate for agriculture fertilisers, animal pet feeds, paint and surface coatings, food and pharmaceuticals, iron and steel manufacture, paper and pulp, production of dimension stones used in building and construction, and for home d?cor, where limestone is also used to make bathroom fixtures such as bathtubs, sinks, countertops, wall panels, and shower walls.
Henlon Lee said the consultations between Jampro, PwC, and the Mines & Geology Division have led to the packaging of five investment opportunities, specifically for the manufacture of: ground calcium carbonate, precipitated calcium carbonate or PCC; dimension stone; cultured marble; and quicklime, slaked lime, and hydraulic lime.
“To date, one investor is preparing to invest in cultured marble in the current fiscal year, and another three potential investors are reviewing the packages for lime, PCC, and cultured marble,” said Henlon Lee.
The identities of the prospective investors were not disclosed.
The market for limestone value-added products was estimated at US$500 million in the Americas in 2020 and is projected to grow 13 per cent annually up to 2024. The products are mainly consumed by the United States, Canada, Brazil, and Chile.
PwC’s research cited Jamaica’s large mineable reserve of high purity limestone, plus a “large customer base for end product and central location of country in relation to North and South America opportunities” as prospective hooks for investors.
In his 2013 report, Douglas also cited the production of paper, polishes, paints, rubber, glass, cosmetics, plastics, and adhesives as opportunities for investors.
“We are talking about total cumulative value for the markets of some US$7 billion,” he said.