Global trade: The solution for local growth
The agricultural sector is seen as a major area for growth and export.

IN the 14 years I have been a Me mber of Parliament we have not moved the wealth needle for our people, and my impatience with this inertia has become suffocating. Other countries have increased their people's wealth by 100 per cent within a 10-year period. Here are just a few examples: The United Arab Emirates (with non-oil exports), Vietnam, Panama, Ghana, Columbia, Dominica Republic. There are several more, but the point is that Jamaica is underperforming based on the value of our brand in the world, the strategic location of our island, our great soil and agricultural flavour, the immense potency of our culture and music, our solid financial infrastructure, the beauty of our island, but most importantly, the inherent talent of our people.

We all want Jamaica to not just survive with anaemic economic growth, but to prevail as a global titan competing with the best economies on the world's stage despite our small size and population. When will we be confident to take the risk and produce for 15, 20, 25, 30 million people versus three million? It is time we focus jointly on the future, which means that the Government, the Opposition, and the private sector need to get together to build our exports in goods and services to fulfil our potential to make Jamaica and Jamaicans wealthy.

Our objective should be to move our economically poor to the middle class, and the middle class to being internationally wealthy in real terms. This will not happen with speeches, and, what's more, raw talent alone is simply not enough to monetise the opportunities available. We need a structured plan that is specific, measurable, actionable, relevant, and time-bound to take us there.

We have repeated for decades that our national trade policy is export-driven, and this position was reiterated in a recent policy document: “At the national level Jamaica's trade policy can be said to be always export-led, even when the country introduced an import substitution policy in the 1950s…” (National Trade Policy 2019, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade).

This is a policy in name only, because in reality we have nothing to show for it that did not exist 50 years ago. We have a market protectionist mindset which has caused us to be a producer of samples for export. Furthermore, we have not focused enough on building our proactive approaches in international trade as we consistently import four times more than we export.

For example: Jamaica started producing rum in 1749, and almost 300 years later it's still our primary manufacture export. In 2019 it represented 79 per cent of our manufacture export earnings (Planning Institute of Jamaica, 2019). Our largest producer and exporter of rum used to be Jamaican-owned. This is no longer the case, and the profits are also exported. Our total imports, approximately US$6.4 billion, was four times larger than our exports of approximately US$1.6 billion. The industries which still account for our traditional domestic export earnings have remained the same for decades — rum, alumina and bauxite, sugar, banana, coffee, mining and quarrying.

Regrettably, we are still talking about general plans and policies in approaching the concept of national growth and employment creation for our people in the same way that we have for 50 years. In a world of free trade, we must establish niche markets.

The countries that have created true wealth for their people are the ones that have developed their exports in both goods and services. Jamaica will never create true wealth for our three million people by just selling to our three million people. Our market is too small. We need strategic leadership and an urgent plan to structurally transform Jamaica's economy into an internationally competitive, value-added export country focusing on products and services in which we can identify a global competitive advantage, controlling all the inputs in our value chain from raw materials to finished goods. If we don't, the rest of the world will continue to imitate us without flattery, royalties, or economic benefit to our people.

Focus on agriculture

There are over 200,000 farmers in Jamaica, representing the largest source of employment. Logically, if we improve the incomes of our farmers we'll improve their purchasing power, which will, in turn, drive growth in our entire economy. Our goal should be to improve the standard of living for our small farmers and, through their linkages with other sectors, increase employment and income in all sectors of the economy.

The growth of several developing countries has been propelled by agricultural exports. In Jamaica we are increasingly dependent on food imports while not realising our potential for exports. Instead, the prevailing policy has resulted in reduced exports, no rationale in crop selection, price instability for farmers and consumers, little or no cold storage, little or no secondary processing of primary produce, no new technology, and we still end up dumping more than 30 per cent of our small farmers' production due to a mismatch between demand and supply.

The fastest way to grow the economy is to provide guaranteed prices to small farmers for exportable crops. Moving forward we should be laser-focused and provide support to agricultural products which have export markets and value-added potential. Our pepper, ginger, cocoa, coffee, ackee, papaya, avocados, organic beef could give us the best global competitive advantage because of our unique Jamaican taste profile.

With interest rates at all-time lows, now is the time to invest in the real economy and not just apartment buildings. The Government of Jamaica should incentivise, facilitate and stimulate with seed capital if necessary. Moreover, it should implement the proposals developed by the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA) that are primarily administrative and have no significant cost impact; namely, adopt and implement the international trademark registration system — the Madrid Protocol, review and remove primary production and export costs applicable to produce administered by Jamaica Agricultural Commodities Regulatory Authority (JACRA), and finalise implementation of Cabinet's decision in early 2019 to remove some items from the list of items requiring import/export licences and permits.

Cooperation across the aisle

The direct link between our anaemic economic growth, violence, and poor education is demonstrated with Jamaica being in the top three murder capitals of the world, coming second to last in Caricom for literacy, and ranking second in the world for femicide.

Politics is increasingly divisive, and government is increasingly dysfunctional, leading to a number of policies that simply don't work. The fault line is inequality. (Jamie Diamond, CEO of JP Morgan). The inequalities within our nation's education system, barriers to entry for the small man and woman, terrible infrastructure planning, wasteful spending, and ineffective social safety nets can all be fixed if we all work together cooperating across the aisle with the right focus and policies for economic growth over the next three years.

An opportunity is only beneficial to those who are adequately prepared. In February this year I tabled a motion to call for the Parliament to debate methods to structurally transform Jamaica's economy into an internationally competitive, value-added export country with key focus on products and services in which we can identify a global competitive advantage. To date we have not debated it but have simply continued to operate as a ship lost at sea with good sails, but no solid compass. Again, I call on the Government and even offer my support to creating a team that fast-tracks the development of these goals.

Lisa Hanna is a Member of Parliament and People's People's National Party spokesperson on foreign affairs and foreign trade.

Lisa Hanna
Lisa Hanna

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