WITH steps being taken to have direct flights between Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, president of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA) John Mahfood is pushing to reduce the trade imbalance between both Caribbean nations.
Mahfood outlined his proposal during a courtesy call on the Ambassador of the Dominican Republic to Jamaica Angie Shakira Martinez Tejera on Monday. The occasion also facilitated discussions between members of the JMEA and embassy officials on trade and export opportunities between the Hispanic country and Jamaica.
The visit formed part of JMEA activities to commemorate Exporters’ Month.
“I was surprised to know the extent to which you’re exporting over [US]$450 million to Jamaica and we haven’t started to export to you yet,” Mahfood stated, drawing a contrast with Jamaica’s US$9.4 million in exports to the Dominican Republic.
“It’s unfortunate when you have such an imbalance in trade,” he added.
The JMEA president said that the Dominican Republic’s exports speaks volumes of the Spanish-speaking country’s capacity to manufacture at a cheaper rate than Jamaica as well as the determination of players to find new markets for their products, despite the existence of language barriers. Mahfood pointed out further that these were best practices that Jamaican manufacturers and exporters could glean from their Dominican counterparts.
By doing so, he said, Jamaican exporters can identify barriers to trade but also embark on improving trade and moving towards “a healthier relationship” with the Dominican Republic, “rather than the imbalance that exists”.
Jamaica has enjoyed diplomatic relations with the Dominican Republic since 1964. For the period 2015 to September 2021, bilateral trade between both countries amounted to US$467.90 million, with the Dominican Republic accounting for the larger portion — exports of US$458.5 million.
While the Dominican Republic’s exports to Jamaica comprise mainly cement and liquefied petroleum gas used mainly for cooking, its main imports are food preparation items, non-alcoholic beverages and light oils.
Mahfood noted that within a year’s time the association can facilitate a tripling of sales to the Dominican Republic to US$30 million, adding: “You have our commitment to ensure that we increase the level of business that we do, that we’ll increase the number of visits and we’ll get to know each other [better].”
To this end, the JMEA president said he will work alongside the organisation’s executive director, Kamesha Turner Blake, to create a strategy to improve trade. Among the measures Mahfood and Turner Blake highlighted for review was the Dominican Republic’s Law 173, the JMEA’s involvement in the Jamaica-Dominican Republic Chamber of Commerce, increased investment, and mutual grounds to explore opportunities.
Turner Blake added that she is exploring how to get a trade mission from Jamaica into the Dominican Republic, and “as we look to Expo 2023, we can have buyers coming from [that country] to Jamaica so that we can increase our exports to that market”.
While echoing Mahfood’s comments on facilitating more “equitable trade, vice-president of the JMEA Richard Coe added that due to Jamaica’s size, it is facing the challenge of increasing economies of scale. However, he pointed out that manufacturers tend to purchase in isolation and, therefore, could capitalise on not just exporting to the Dominican Republic, but turning to it as nearshore supplier of raw materials and reduce operating costs.
In her response, Ambassador Martinez Tejera said that she shared concerns about the trade imbalance between her country and Jamaica.
“When I saw that, I made it a part of my philosophy here in my work in Jamaica to promote a more reciprocal trade between our two countries,” she said.
“I have been consistent with that, promoting that, saying that. Now it is time to go to the actions,” she added.
Martinez Tejera said that having had meetings with the JMEA executive and manufacturers in Jamaica, she said there is potential for local companies to find a market in the Dominican Republic.
In addition to pledging her commitment to the local sector, she emphasised that the embassy’s doors are open to company’s who wish to begin exporting to her country.