MICRO, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) are being urged to further tap into overseas markets, through export, by taking advantage of the opportunities presented under a number of preferential trade agreements to which Jamaica is a party.
Speaking at a Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC) webinar, manager for client relations, marketing and research at the Jamaica Trade Board Sharisa Buckle shared information on the various trade agreements.
The agreements, which include a number of preferential trade arrangements, she said largely provide access for local entrepreneurs to engage in cross-border transactions with a number of countries globally. Some of these, she said, include: the United States under the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act (CBERA)/ Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI); the European Union under the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA); CARIFORUM through the UK EPA; Canada under CARIBCAN; as well as some CFaricom agreements which facilitate trade across approximately 13 English-speaking Caribbean countries.
The various agreements, she said however, allow for duty-free trade in keeping with the respective rules of origin (RoO) or qualifying factors.
Referencing the General System of Preference (GSP), Buckle said this agreement also offers many developing countries preferential market access by granting duty concessions on specific products during trade with a number of developed countries, including some from former socialist blocs.
"Jamaica's MSMEs are the backbone of our economy, and I would like to see more participation under these agreements because they are severely underutilised…they are here to boost market access and we want to see our small businesses taking advantage of the benefits," she said.
"Entrepreneurs can come to the trade board to get their certificates or letters of origin, however when they are ready to export they must be registered with Jamaica Promotions Corporation (Jampro) as well as [have] their businesses [registered] with the Companies Office [of Jamaica]," she added.
The trade board executive cited products such as rum, canned callaloo and ackee, body lotions, water, black castor oil, baked goods, seasoning, ketchup, spices, pepper sauces, crackers and biscuits among those that can be readily exported to several countries around the world duty-free under the provisions of about 11 of the available trade agreements to which Jamaica has signed.
The trade agreements which largely assist local importers and exporters with securing improved access for goods and services in contracting states also often reduce some of the trade barriers existing in those markets.
With Government now heavily focused on driving up exports in light of a highly disproportionate trade deficit in which imports account for the bulk of current transactions, all efforts are being made to push more local products and services to outside markets, and to close in on a widening deficit. At the end of 2022 the country's trade deficit stood at US$5.8 billion, and according to data revealed by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (Statin) in its trade bulletin, imports up to the end of last year were valued above US$7 billion — almost 30 per cent above that of 2021 — while exports, even after some growth of its own, marginally closed at US$1.9 billion.
The Jamaica Trade Board, which acts as the certifying authority for goods exported under the various trade agreements, has responsibility for World Trade Organization (WTO) requirements on import licensing along with the issuing of import and export licenses for specific items that may have a negative impact on the environmental, social, or economic conditions of the country. The body also, in conducting product analyses, issues certificates of origin for exports under various preferential trade agreements, ensuring that the country meets its international obligations under the WTO agreement regarding the rules of origin.
Following the launch of its Jamaica Trade Information Portal (JTIP), the trade certifying body said it is now able to seamlessly provide more services to clients, and in an easier and more convenient way.
"The platform, launched about four years ago, provides a comprehensive source of regulatory information related to all cross-border transactions, through a single platform. It has 34 content providers that provide information as it relates to the relevant measures and procedures that businesses can take to get their products qualified, also featuring an export guide," Buckle said.