Q: Among your early initiatives, you have created a Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation. What is the rationale for that?
A: We have created a ministry that brings together all the key players that are necessary for a well-articulated growth policy.
One of the lessons learned about stimulating economic growth is that it is not just about a financial stimulus – Jamaica does not have that luxury. We have to maintain fiscal discipline and we have to maintain a primary surplus balance high enough to show a commitment to debt reduction, so we have to rely more heavily on the other areas of growth promotion and stimulated growth.
That means first of all the government itself has to coordinate all the players in the landscape. So if investors find Jamaica an attractive brand but when they come here they find that what they experience on the ground is different, then that is a problem. We are taking that intangible part of promotion very seriously and we are trying to get everybody to understand that this is very important and very integral.
Q: Are there any practical initiatives or changes to the business environment that you would like to see?
A: First, the establishment of the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation moves in that direction. It brings together all the agencies and creates one incentive structure, and everybody must work towards growth. We are looking at making our approvals and pre-planning processes more efficient.
One of the things that we are doing now is making shovel-ready projects. So instead of people coming [here] and having to go through the process of making approvals, doing designs and so on, there are projects and approvals already there.
Shortly we will pass a new anti-corruption bill, which will give the state power to deal with corruption. We recognise that, especially if we want to attract investors from North America and Europe, we have to position ourselves as a country whose legislative framework and culture is in sync with best practices and best standards internationally.
Q: According to our figures, Jamaica was one of the few countries in the Latin America and Caribbean region that saw an increase in FDI last year. Do you think this momentum can be maintained, and what is driving this successful FDI performance?
A: ‘Brand Jamaica’ is still strong, and we are seeing quite a bit of interest not just from the US or Europe but also from Latin America and from [within] our region. The Dominican Republic and Haiti are making investments. Jamaica presents a great value proposition that many other countries in the region do not have.
So while we do have our challenges, we also have our assets, which make us both comparative and competitive and gives us another edge. Location is one of them. Jamaica is probably the most central of the islands and we consider ourselves to be the centre of the Caribbean – Jamaica just lends itself to be the distribution hub of the Caribbean.
Jamaica’s brand in the market, our traditional ties to Europe and North America, as well as Latin America, Panama, Costa Rica and Colombia, make us accessible. We are open people, we are very metropolitan in the way we think – so Jamaica is a place where cultures can come and collide, and people can come and feel free.
One of our assets, if you look at our labour force profile, is that we have more people with university degrees than with technical and vocational qualifications. We have accountants, lawyers, administrators, people with banking and business experience, who are chartered and qualified in their field, who could support a regional office for administrative purposes, who could take on higher end business process outsourcing, including the outsourcing of corporate offices. And it makes sense because of the wage differential, but the quality of service is comparable and we are English speaking.
Matched with that is the whole business of lifestyle. So because of all the ‘Jamaican-ness’, this assertive, friendly, open, fun-loving, vibrant kind of culture, hosting an office here would mean a far more pleasant environment for staff. So we are going to be promoting this and we see it as a big driver for growing our economy in years to come.