JCC 'unequivocally bullish' on Jamaica

BY KARENA BENNETT
Business reporter
bennettk@jamaicaobserver.com

Friday, January 11, 2019

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DESPITE decades of anaemic macro-economic growth, newly elected president of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) Lloyd Distant Jnr says the Chamber remains “unequivocally bullish” on transforming Jamaica.

Distant Jr, who was speaking at a luncheon hosted by the Lions Club of Kingston at the Jamaica Pegasus hotel on Wednesday, announced that the chamber has put together an agenda aimed at improving the country's economic performance for 2019.

This year, JCC plans on focusing on Jamaica's growth, taxation policy, the redevelopment of downtown Kingston, as well as recommend steps that facilitate the creation of an enabling environment.

“To our mind, the country has a stable and encouraging macro-economic framework, the building blocks of which were established in the previous Administration and which have been carried through during the current Administration,” Distant Jr told the audience.

“It is worth repeating that the predictability of a low inflation rate, the relative stability of the exchange rate, the progressive lowering of the debt-to-GDP ratio, downward interest rates, vibrancy of the stock markets, and other such indicators including our own Indices of Business and Consumer Confidence are positive signals for those who may have been sitting on the sidelines uncertain whether it was timely for their entry or re-entry,” he continued.

He noted that the chamber is committed to championing the growth that is needed to realise Jamaica's potential as an economy. As part of that thrust, Distant Jnr said the chamber will be encouraging micro, small and medium-sized members to look for regional and extra-regional for opportunities; and will provide further support by augmenting its reach within the regional network of chambers to assist small entrepreneurs in expanding.

“One of the things we are seeking is the development of a mechanism that will enable our MSMEs, in particular, to participate in some of the major infrastructural projects taking place across the country. We have to give them the opportunity to acquire the expertise to accelerate their own growth whether as individual enterprises or as consortia.

“We are similarly supportive of the initiative to ensure that MSMEs are given preferential access to a percentage of all GOJ procurements across the board. In our view, while financing continues to be a major issue for MSMEs, it is not the only issue. Exposure to opportunities is, in some cases, as great a limitation,” he said.

As for Jamaica's taxation policy, the JCC is of the view that Jamaica is still some distance away from having an optimal enabling environment, and has renewed its call for the establishment of a rational and simple income tax system. Ultimately, the chamber wants the Government to move towards the abolition of income tax in the long term.

“We continue to be constrained by a system of high direct taxation that penalises a small sector of the society, and which includes a suite of nuisance taxes and fees and it is our contention that we must move towards indirect taxation and the revocation of taxation on dividends, the removal of the Asset Tax and the withdrawal of the Minimum Business Tax.”

He added that while the redevelopment of downtown Kingston is off to a “stuttered start”, what is urgently needed is for the development to be extended and expanded northwards and westwards, in particular making its presence felt in areas adjacent to Coronation Market.

“And so creating an environment where shop owners, consumers and vendors can co-exist in harmony. We have been convinced for years – and this has been borne out in countries,” the President reasoned.

“Having admitted all of that, we nonetheless need to admit that we are far from doing the best job we can in taking the necessary actions to move our country forward. One of the main impediments in my mind is that enough of us aren't, seized by the urgency with which we need to approach our task,” he said.

According to Distant Jr, Jamaica's pattern of studying, consulting, reconsulting and updating its studies, have impeded the country's own progress. He added that while he is not under-valuing the need for consultations and studies, the Government has spent immense resources in this process while other countries have managed to make its decision-making process much more efficient.

“We have to be serious. It took Jamaica almost 17 years to develop a Copyright Act. Let's pause and think about that. One of the world's most creative countries, indeed one whose world status was significantly built by our cultural and creative producers, took 17 years to begin to protect the creative and cultural output of its citizens. Why so long? We were studying and consulting and reconsulting,” he said.

“We are now approaching that time frame for the implementation of the Madrid Protocol, which as you know is designed to reduce the cost and complexity of simultaneously registering intellectual property (IP) across a range of jurisdictions. This, with the knowledge that in this day and age IP, not mass production of undifferentiated goods, is key to sustainable development in a small nation such as ours. No… we are still studying and consulting and reconsulting…

“Nowhere is this more evident than in our recent slippage in the Doing Business rankings,” he cautioned.

In this regard, the chamber says it has resuscitated its Legs and Regs committee to place constant focus on the lobbying and advocacy required to ensure that Jamaica updates the laws, regulations and business processes.

“Our contention is that, with timely changes to ensure a more appropriate enabling environment, not only will we be able to record faster and more sustainable growth, but we will also be better able to climb the Doing Business ranks, which by itself can also be an inducement for investment inflows… creating, as it were, a virtual circle.

“This is a task that will call for many hands on deck – and we look forward to the opportunity to work alongside the Lions Club in seeing the execution of this task,” Distant Jr said.

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