ST JOHN’S, Antigua — On the heels of the 35th anniversary of diplomatic ties with China, Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne, along with the minister of foreign affairs Charles Max Hernandez, held high level discussions stressing the importance of local employment with Chinese diplomatic officials and the China Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC).
January 15 marked the historic ground breaking ceremony for a US$90 million port modernisation project, the largest public sector investment in the history of Antigua and Barbuda, made possible by the government of Antigua and Barbuda and China through the China Exim Bank and CCECC.
Chinese ambassador, Wang Xianmin, from the onset of discussions signaled the importance of what the session signifies.
According to the ambassador, “This is a big day for our two nations, here and it is our hope that our flagship project will benefit everyone involved.”
Browne acknowledged the importance of the talks and expressed his gratitude on behalf of his country, stressing the need for cooperation in the employment process for the landmark project.
“We are very excited about the project… it is historic, we want to make sure all stakeholders benefit in the process, that the CCECC as the contractor makes a profit, but we want to make sure that the local stakeholders benefit as well. As you know, myself and our ambassador have asked for a 40/60 ratio in terms of employment so that we absorb as many people as we can from the domestic market in order to help reduce unemployment in the country,” he said.
The prime minister used the opportunity to explain how important local employment is to his government. He went on to elaborate on the policy his government has adopted since coming into office.
“We have to ensure we keep the social stability within the society of the country, and to ensure our people are happy. To be practical we want to ensure we have as many Antiguans and Barbudans as possible working on the site. We also would like to create the opportunity for the transfer of technology,” Browne added.
During the talks, Browne requested that the main contractor, CCECC, make it possible for sub-contracting to local contractors, “so that we could build some capacity”.
In response, the Chinese delegation agreed with the need to continue building the relationship between China and Antigua. They also extended their gratitude to the people of Antigua and Barbuda for their cooperation between the two nations.
The Chinese delegates and chair of the CCECC also agreed with Browne on the hiring practices for the contractors.
According to Zhao Dian Long, chairman of CCECC, the company is presently in 89 countries, and “Antigua and Barbuda is a significant market.”
“It is also one of our company’s strategies to maximize employment locally; this is the only way we are able to stay,” the chairman said, responding to the aspect of local employment.
“In other countries we also push for management, local management,” he continued.
“For labour, skilled or unskilled, it is a must. We will also engage in transfer of technology, this is the only way we would be able to stay,” the chairman reiterated.
“Today is another new beginning,” Zhao commented, describing the ground breaking ceremony for the multimillion dollar port modernization project. “It is one of our most significant projects globally, and it is as the prime minister said, historic.”