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By Jacqueline Charles

With the maritime world anxiously awaiting the completion of the expansion of the Panama Canal, Haiti wants its private sector to begin thinking about investing in the development of its ports.

Alix Celestin, head of the National Port Authority, will lead a two-day seminar Monday and Tuesday at the Royal Oasis hotel in Petionville on port development in Haiti in hopes of encouraging the business community to assist Haiti in developing a maritime economy.

Observers have long argued that any long-term improvement in Haiti’s economy depends on both repairing and reforming its underused port system, which has been a pocket of corruption and cronyism.

Celestin said the current government’s strategy calls for investing in rural ports, while encouraging investors to develop private ports, including those that could help Haiti compete for business from the expanded canal.

Haiti currently has 13 seaports.

Already several ports in the region, as well as Miami’s port, are positioning themselves to better handle the large cargo ships that will cross the expanded Panama Canal. Haiti, meanwhile, is still trying to reconstruct its Port-au-Prince seaport, which was severely damaged in the Jan. 12, 2010 earthquake. About $70 million worth of improvements are to begin shortly, Celestin said.

Among those scheduled to attend the conference are Miami-Dade County port officials and Commissioner Jean Monestime. Miami-Dade has agreed to provide Haiti with technical assistance on improving its port system in both Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien.

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