EPOC chair calls for 'mindset change' in private sector
DUNCAN...as a country we would like to see this robust growth continue and we can exceed even the 1.6[per cent growth] (Photo: Joseph Wellington)

Chairman of the Economic Programme Oversight Committee (EPOC) Keith Duncan is calling for a "mindset change" among Jamaica's entrepreneurial class, pointing to opportunities in the economy that businessmen and businesswomen can take advantage of to bolster economic growth.

His calls comes amidst the Government of Jamaica forecasting a 1.6 per cent expansion of the gross domestic product (GDP) for fiscal year 2023/24 as growth returns to normal following recovery from the dowturn from COVID-19.

"As a country we would like to see this robust growth continuing, and we can exceed even the 1.6 [per cent growth]. We don't really want to get back into this range of 1-2 per cent growth," Duncan stated, questioning how Jamaica can "move out of the narrow, low-growth syndrome" that has plagued its economy.

While highlighting macroenomic and fiscal stability as fillips for economic growth, he noted, "It is for us as a country — our entrepreneurial class — to take advantage of the opportunities that are there... What we need is a mindset change, because over the years we get into a funk [that] we are traders. We need to move to value added," the EPOC chair asserted.

Among the areas of opportunities for value-added growth he listed were manufacturing, logistics, agro-processing, and tourism.

Commenting on the tourism, Duncan said that Jamaica should be building on linkages in the tourism sector while developing the community tourism segment with the incorporation of bars and dances. Additionally, he said business owners should take advantage of the "new demographic" of black Americans who come to the island for experiential tourism.

"So we know that when tourism does well agriculture does well...entertainment does well, restaurants do well. So, therefore, tourism continues to drive the recovery of the Jamaican economy," he shared.

For the December quarter, 638,669 tourists visited Jamaica, reflecting a 42.6 per cent increase over the same period in 2021. Figures for the period also exceeded arrivals in the same quarter in 2019.

For the month of January, visitor arrivals jumped 75.8 per cent over 2022 and rose by 5.7 per cent when compared with 2019.

Duncan also pointed to the increase in annual daily rate — how much a tourist spends on hotel accommodations — and a 26 per cent uptick in Airbnb bookings as push factors to explore tourism linkages.

The EPOC chairman also outlined the need for improvements in the financial sector, particularly the capital markets, to create more access to private equity and debt financing of small businesses. Notwithstanding, he acknowledged that credit lines to private sector had picked up from its low during the height of the pandemic.

At the end of November, annual growth in loans and advances from deposit-taking institutions reached 11.8 per cent. While higher than the 7.9 per cent recorded in the same month in 2021, this was still lower than the 16.5 per cent in February 2020.

When asked if the stablisation of foreign exchange rates will spur more businesses who hold savings and investments in foreign currency to invest, Duncan said it was most logical to do so.

On another note, he argued that the private sector needs to take the lead on investing in training and skills development to boost productivity and thus drive GDP growth. Drawing comparison with Jamaica and its regional peers, like the Dominican Republic, Duncan said, "[Private sector] spends a lot more of their financial on training its people."

"We need to collaborate also; we need public-private partnerships. So, therefore, we need to work along wth HEART to determine what are the needs and that we hold each other accountable around the skill sets to drive growth," he continued.

BY JOSIMAR SCOTT Senior reporter josimars@jamaicaobserver.com

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