As the island recognises national exporters’ month, there’s a call for both policymakers and manufacturers to change their mindset regarding trade and export.
Speaking at a recent Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA) breakfast forum, Opposition spokeswoman on foreign affairs and foreign trade Lisa Hanna noted that Jamaica is lagging in terms of international trade because the island’s policies and manufacturing haven’t evolved.
“A closer look at the data over the last two years shows that Jamaica is actually lagging behind other countries in the region for exports of goods and services on a per capita basis,” said Hanna.
She pointed out that in 2019, Trinidad and Tobago with a population of 1.39 million people exported over US$9 billion worth of goods with the per capita income from those sales being about US$6,500.
At the same time, Jamaica with about twice the population of Trinidad, exported between US$1.2 to US$1.5 billion which works out at US$535 per person in the island.
She told manufacturers, “we have to actually think of other markets. Countries that make money for their people are the countries that sell to other external markets. It’s time that we take the risk and produce for up to 30 million people globally, and we must establish specialised niche markets.”
One of the policy related shortcoming was what Hanna referred to as Jamaica’s trade policy contradiction.
“We can’t say something is export-led and then say, even though we have an import substitution-led policy... it makes actually no sense and as policymakers we have to find a way to quickly recalibrate that situation. This [trade policy] by itself is a policy in name only, because in reality we have nothing really to show but that which did not exist 50 years ago, because if we’re honest with ourselves we have a protectionist market mindset which has caused us to only be a producer of samples for exports,” she argued.
She also complained that many of the island’s export items have remained the same for over 300 years in some instances.
“We’ve not focused enough on building our proactive approaches in international trade as we constantly import four times more than we export and our import substitution policy which is still broad-based and is still being pursued today is a dead end for several industries and has not really created the export driven economy or led to any significant export and manufacture of goods despite the substantial duty protection.”
She continued: “For example, Jamaica started producing rum in 1749 and almost 300 years later it’s still our primary manufacturing source of export.”
Hanna stressed there’s room for improvement in the maketing of Jamaican goods and made a call for increased funding to support marketing efforts.
“Coffee is the second most traded commodity globally, apart from oil and everyday people drink about 2.5 billion cups of coffee worldwide. Jamaica ranks 45th in terms of coffee production globally, 65 per cent of millennials between the ages of 25 and 39 years old drink a cup of coffee per day and spend US$4 on it. We’re not taking advantage of those realities,” Hanna said.