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Shaw backs Chinese

Minister defends investments, rejects criticism of Asians as irresponsible

BY GARFIELD MYERS
Editor-at-Large
South Central Bureau
myersg@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, August 20, 2018

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Audley Shaw has come out in robust defence of Chinese investments in Jamaica, telling business leaders here that criticism of such major projects as highway and road development is “irresponsible”.

Pointing to road improvements now taking place across Kingston, last year's completion of the North-South link of Highway 2000 and other planned highway projects, Shaw said that, “when people come and criticise the Chinese investments that are taking place it is irresponsible. These investments not coming from anybody else; the Americans aren't doing it …”

Shaw was speaking on Saturday at a quarterly parish chambers' meeting hosted by the Manchester Chamber of Commerce at the Mandeville Hotel.

Last year, former Cabinet minister and current Opposition spokesman on Industry and Commerce Peter Bunting joined those criticising aspects of Chinese investments in Jamaica.

In a statement issued then, which sought to clarify initial comments on social media, Bunting said that locals were at a disadvantage, especially in the construction industry, since Chinese investors are “State-owned enterprises against which local Jamaican contractors cannot be expected to compete effectively…”

There has also been strong criticism from worker representatives and from sections of the trade union movement that Chinese employers are often in breach of Jamaica's labour laws and conventions.

Shaw told business leaders that after the Bruce Golding–led Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) took political power in 2007 he, as Finance Minister became “one of the architects of embracing the Chinese to come to Jamaica with money and technology…”

Shaw, who was switched from finance to industry, commerce, agriculture and fisheries by Prime Minister Andrew Holness earlier this year, spoke of a discussion he had with the Chinese government regarding investments here.

“I met with the minister of finance in China [in] 2010 and said to him, 'We want a North-South Highway but we can't afford to borrow the US$700 million to build the highway.' The Chinese Finance Minister laughed and said, 'but we have more money than the IMF (International Monetary Fund), and he said 'we will build the highway, Mr Shaw.' We give them, of course, a period to get back their money, but the highway has been built. The highway can't be taken up and removed from Jamaica again,” Shaw said.

He argued that Jamaicans who comprise “the vast majority of workers on all these projects” are learning new technologies brought in by the Chinese, even as the quality of local road and highway infrastructure improves at a rapid rate.

He noted that extension of the highway “from May Pen to Mandeville will begin shortly, and the extension from Harbour View into St Thomas… and into Portland will start soon as well. We shouldn't be criticising those projects and saying we bringing in Chinese people and this and that…”

Shaw applauded the investment by Chinese company JISCO at Nain, St Elizabeth, involving the acquisition and reopening of the Alpart alumina plant, and plans for a second alumina plant, as “nothing short of exciting”.

JISCO has spoken of plans for a second alumina plant at Nain as well as the development of an industrial zone.

“It is going to create a shortage of labour in Jamaica. That's how exciting it is. It is estimated that at maturity you could have between 60 and 70 thousand people being employed in that zone…” Shaw said of JISCO's plans for Alpart and the wider Nain community.

“It is time for us to think big, time for us to step up our act and to pursue excellence and, yes, bring in partnerships from those who have developed the technology, have the capital, and may have the experience that they can share with us. This Government is unapologetic about our relationship with the government and people of China,” Shaw said.

Asked by the Jamaica Observer about allegations of labour relations breaches, Shaw said the Ministry of Labour was investigating.

“Listen, if that is so, then that needs to be properly [investigated],” said the minister.

“The Ministry of Labour is taking an interest in that matter. They (Chinese investors) need to respect our laws. They also need to respect the obligations that we have for our workers… if there are breaches, we need to sit with the Chinese and work it out. I don't think it is something that is beyond our capacity to have a final agreement that works for everybody,” Shaw said.

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