Business

Drought slows economic growth

Sunday, August 24, 2014    

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ECONOMIC growth has slowed down.

The Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) predicts that domestic GDP will rise by less than one per cent during the current quarter.

The economy grew by 1.2 per cent in the previous quarter, which ended on June 30.

A projected decline in agriculture output was blamed for the expected slower pace of growth for the July-to-September period.

Drought conditions and bush fires have hurt crop production. And farmers still have to weather a hurricane season which runs to November.

"This contraction will be partially mitigated by continued growth in export crop production, as well as increased output from the seven agro parks which are gradually expanding the number of hectares under production to meet targeted levels," said PIOJ Director General Colin Bullock at a briefing on the economy last Wednesday.

A total of nine agro parks have been planned for development. The seven currently in operation has almost 1,500 acres under production, and they employ over 1,100 farmers.

The expansion of large-scale farming projects helped boost productivity and output in the agriculture sector, which grew by 12.5 per cent in the April-to-June period. But that was a reversal of the 6.5 per cent decline the sector experienced during the comparative period in 2013.

Up to June, weather conditions were better than they were a year ago.

During the first half of 2013 the country was still reeling from the effects of Hurricane Sandy, which hit the island in late 2012. Drought conditions also prevailed during April to June 2013.

Most other sectors are expected to grow this quarter, which ends next month.

The PIOJ expects to see higher output from mining and quarrying; construction; hotels and restaurants; transport, storage and communication; and real estate and business services.

Projects in road and hotel construction as well as stronger external demand is expected to drive some of that growth.

Early figures for tourism show that airport arrivals for July was 7.7 per cent higher than the same month in 2013.

Bauxite production also increased by 7.8 per cent during the month. Alumina production was up by 1.2 per cent

"Strengthening of confidence levels consequent on the anticipated successful completion of the fifth IMF quarterly review and continuing greater stability in the macroeconomic environment" was also anticipated by the PIOJ.

Looking even further ahead, the business process outsourcing industry is expected to be a major driver of economic growth and employment generation in the short-term.

"Already there are ongoing efforts to expand the industry and it is projected that an additional 2,500 jobs will be created during the current fiscal year (which ends next March)," said Bullock.

Each additional job in the BPO sector can generate US$25,000, according to industry estimates.

Over 400,000 square feet of additional office space is slated for development for call contact centres and BPO operations.

Of that amount, 50,000 square feet at the Barnett Tech Park in Montego Bay is currently under construction.

Another 50,000 square feet location is also planned for the former Claro building in New Kingston

Cari-Med's Glen Christian has partnered with a major BPO company to set up facilities there.

Operating around the clock, each one of those two facilities can provide over 2,100 jobs over three shifts.

The current industry standard in Jamaica is 60-70 square feet per seat, when restroom facilities and lunch areas are included in the office space.

Presently, the BPO sector in Jamaica employs about 14,000 people.

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