The Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) region has become the new frontier of the power play between the US and China for global leadership. On the one hand, the US administration has been vocal in its support of the region; on the other, China and its companies continue to strike major deals across the continent. Aubyn Hill, Jamaica’s minister of industry, investment and commerce tells fDi that “regionalism is going to grow” and that geography naturally allows the country to pick sides.
Q: The World Trade Organization has signalled that it will be complicated to strike trade agreements in the current geopolitical context. What does it mean for a country like Jamaica? How are you going to carve out your niche in today’s fractious global order?
A: Regionalism is going to grow. The US is putting a lot of focus on the LAC region, on things like nearshoring, renewable energy, climate change and the training of 500,000 health workers in the next three to five years. They are also ramping up the Development Finance Corporation — which used to be Opic, the Exim bank and the IDB — to focus on the Caribbean as president Joe Biden’s administration realises that the region was somewhat forgotten in previous years.
They are doing so because they have issues with immigration, poverty and climate change, and they realised they can’t fix these issues until they help people in the whole region. So, we are in the region where a lot of money is being focused on and ‘friendshoring’ arrangements are being discussed.
Q: What is the role that Jamaica can play in this context?
A: We’re so far down the road with business processing outsourcing and special economic zones, we have already made it simple for many US companies to work with us. The government wants to double down on that; we’re investing a lot of money in infrastructure to accommodate new investors. Our laws have been adjusted and they will continue to be adjusted to make it easy for people to come here and do their nearshoring operations.
We’re talking to people from the Middle East and Asia, and telling them that we can provide them with access to the biggest market in the world and we have a young, English-speaking workforce. We are willing to take on all the major risks — we are putting in the infrastructure, bringing broadband, water and utilities to the investors’ gates; we are de-risking their investment to make sure we are in a position to be as attractive as we can to prospective investors who believe they have to be close to the US.
Q: In this nearshoring perspective, will a country like Jamaica be asked to pick sides between the US and China, which is growing its influence across the LAC region?
A: I don’t think we will be asked to pick sides. Geography allows us to pick sides. We’re a responsible government and we understand the realities of life — which is that we are 75 minutes away from our biggest market and the biggest military power in the world.
Q: Governments across the globe have been dealing with soaring inflation rates, and Jamaica is no exception. What are you doing as a government to mitigate its impact?
A: There is no short-term fix. In the longer run, the cabinet has decided to ramp up renewable energy. With oil prices this high — and Jamaica being a net importer of hydrocarbons — we don’t have a better chance to put renewable energy in everything we do and subsidise it. In the meantime, we are providing financial assistance to those in greatest need to meet their energy bills. The government’s target is to have 50% of our power coming from renewable energy sources, especially solar, by 2030.
This article first appeared in the August/September 2022 print edition of fDi Intelligence. View a digital edition of the magazine here.