Q: The recent IMF meetings included much talk about the need for resilience in Caribbean economies, particularly in the face of the recent natural disasters hitting the region. How is Jamaica working toward achieving this resilience?
A: Climate change is something that is irreversibly on the agenda. In Jamaica, one thing we are doing is making a radical shift toward renewable energy. Over the past few years, we have already installed more than 100 megawatts [MW] of solar and wind power and we have moved toward liquiified natural gas [LNG], which is a cleaner fuel. We have put in 120MW of that already. We now have started a new plan, another 190MW of energy, so when that is completed 50% of our energy needs will be either LNG or renewable energy. We plan to go more aggressively into wind and solar as well.
Q: What can Jamaica’s experience bring to the table, and what would you like to see in terms of support from multilateral institutions?
A: With regards to the whole disaster situation in the region right now, there are a lot of lessons from it going forward. One thing I called for [at the IMF meetings] was common building codes for the entire region, because we do have variable building standards across the region. We had a major category 4 hurricane in 1988, which revealed a lot of [Jamaica's] inadequacies. We made a radical move after that to shore up our building standards and I think that is what has to be done throughout the region as well.
I think that, generally, the multilateral institutions take what happened [in the recent hurricane season] for granted. What happened is extraordinary, and therefore the responses also have to be extraordinary; they have to be unprecedented in terms of the level of support. For instance, the countries cannot survive only on loans, they actually need to grant funding support as part of the mix of solutions.
Q: Jamaica’s economy contracted over the summer, but more positive growth is projected toward the end of 2017. Where are you seeing this positive shift being generated?
A: In the second quarter of 2017 we did drop, but we will rebound into positive growth in the September quarter. I’m really confident about that, because of the range of things that we are doing. The BPO sector is growing quite aggressively. Incidentally, in the June quarter, only two sectors went into negative growth: agriculture, because of the weather, and mining. And mining is now set to rebound because the Alpart plant, which hasn’t been open since 2009, is being reopened by a Chinese company to mine bauxite. So mining is up and running again, agriculture is rebounding. Tourism is growing in leaps and bounds. [During October], tourism grew by about 9%.
Q: There has been talk about a future medical marijuana industry in Jamaica. Do you see that as a potential growth sector?
A: It is, there’s no question about it. We established a cannabis licensing authority, and it is now beginning to issue licences for the proper management, research and development of medical marijuana. In fact, one Jamaican company has recently been given approval by the US Food and Drug Administration [FDA] for the development of a particular medicinal marijuana. What is most significant here is that the FDA approved it for production. There are many areas for growth going forward.