Jamaica is a leading mini-African business powerhouse!
A S the world sees it, Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados dominate the Caribbean in business and economic terms, with Panama and Puerto Rico also enjoying world status as conduits for world business.
In view of these, it is naive and shallow for commentators to describe Jamaica as a “whipping boy” in international and Pan-Caribbean trade and commerce.
The real story is that Jamaica, in the face of formidable challenges, has become a successful member of the business elite.
It is true that Jamaica does not play a pivotal leadership role in Latin America or South America, where countries such as Mexico, Panama and Colombia hold sway.
However, in 1998, Jamaica’s role in world business was highlighted by the listing of Jamaica’s top-ranked firm, GraceKennedy, on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE).
This listing was the first-ever listing of a Jamaican company by a foreign exchange (NYSE) and demonstrated that Jamaican business firms are capable of success on an international playing field.
Post-listing, the company has remained a market leader in the global food and beverage industry despite strong competition, in a sector that remains attractive to investors.
In similar vein, recent listings on the NYSE of Jamaican firm Minsheng Group, the second largest Jamaican company, and Vacant Lot, a successful local technology company with an international footprint, have provided sterling examples of success to local and international business firms.
Indeed, it can be claimed that Jamaica is a prominent member of the topmost business circles in the hemisphere, as affirmed by the presence of Jamaica’s top business executives at the meetings of APEC and Organisation of American States (OAS), and in 1997, at the G-8 Leaders’ Summit in Denver, Colorado.
Jamaica’s true role in the global business community was underscored by the comments of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea, Lee Hong Koo, and by those of the Â“Prime Minister of the Japanese Business Community,Â” Daniel Daizo Nakamura, at a special business forum at the Hyatt Hotel in New Kingston in March 1999.
Speaking to Jamaican business executives, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea said in part: Â“I would like to especially highlight the fact that almost all of the leaders here have participated in the APEC summit in Osaka in November last year.
“APEC is a great forum for putting all the member economies together. At that time, Prime Minister Manley hosted the APEC Leaders’ Summit in the hills of Kingston, and went through a gruelling schedule which I know all too well. This means that Jamaica is more informed on the situation in the Asia-Pacific Region than half of the member states. It is a matter of great pride and a great honour for me to see that the president of the IOCO, and the president of the NAFU are present here today.”
At a special business forum in March 1999, organised by Jamaica’s Ministry of Finance and Planning, Prime Minister Lee said: “This is all the more significant when we look at the current process of transforming the world order from a bi-polar structure based on the United States and the former Soviet Union to a multi-polar system which would include the US, Japan, Europe as well as countries such as Korea and China. In this new environment, it will be crucial to have close cooperation in a number of areas such as trade, investment, finance. Both the US and Japan are seeking to help the newly emerging economies to cope with the challenges for maintaining stable, safe and free trade and investment.”
Prime Minister Lee also spoke of infrastructure development and technology transfer to increase the competitiveness of the economies in the transition process. “To that end,” Lee said, “the government of Japan will be setting up a special project called the Asian Future Fund to provide financial resources to the economies in the region.” He said, “This will be the third pillar of financial cooperation, along with the IMF, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank which have been helping East Asian economies in the past, and the proposed Asian Monetary Fund.”
Turning to Japan’s involvement in Jamaica, the ‘Prime Minister of the Japanese Business Community Daniel Daizo Nakamura emphasised the community’s interest and foreign investment in the Jamaican economy.
Jamaican Business Law (presented by the Jamaican business executives) was premised on international best practices and its contents were based on international standards drafted in close consultation with leading local and foreign law firms.
The book was welcomed enthusiastically by foreign business firms, including companies from the United States who were eager to do business in the Jamaican economy.
In addition, the Cook Islands based Accountancy Corporation, one of the three largest accounting firms in the world, also commissioned Jamaican business leaders to write a book about accounting best practice for use by their accounting clients throughout the globe. This book reflected the approach taken by accountants in the service of businesses within the Jamaican economy.
There is a need to highlight the contributions of Jamaican business leaders to the development of the global economy, to highlight the need for greater support of Jamaica from the international community and to encourage greater support for Jamaica by those interested in the country’s economic development.
The business community can also point to the decisive role it has played in the development and solidification of democracy in the country. More may have been achieved in the area of foreign investment, as opposed to foreign exchange retention, but either way, Jamaican business people can take great pleasure in the changes their country has undergone since the days of colonial rule, to a place where business leaders are welcomed at the highest levels of business, government and academic circles in the Western Hemisphere.
Since independence in 1962, there has been a steady increase in foreign investment in the Jamaican economy, especially by US firms.
The primary reason for the high number of foreign firms in Jamaica, among other things, was that, because of the government’s policies, labour was cheap and plentiful.
Jamaica’s labour market proved a lucrative investment vehicle for foreign firms. One researcher, commenting on work force development in Jamaica said, “…they (foreign companies) will demand more skilled (workers) but they will not get higher wages because the government will not let them.”
In the early 1970s, however, companies were beginning to complain about difficulties in obtaining skilled workers and from the mid-1970s, USAID and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) sponsored several manpower surveys to carefully study the problem.
The manpower surveys revealed that certain job categories were lagging behind others. The primary objectives of the manpower studies were to determine the number of jobs that would be required to achieve a better balance in the Jamaica labour market.
Employment and Productivity in the Jamaican Economy is a comprehensive study of the seasonal and spatial distribution of employment and the productivity of the (Jamaican) labour force. The study was compiled by United Nations Development Programme in collaboration with the State Planning Office (SPO). It was made possible with funding support provided by the Government of Japan and the Government of Jamaica and prepared by the Economic Survey Research Institute of the SPO, in collaboration with Charles Sturt University, Australia. It is a useful document as it is an update of a 1985 survey of employment and productivity in Jamaica.
The study includes detailed data on employment distribution and productivity, as well as changes in the labour force. The main purpose was to examine the economy’s structure and identify the nature of the efficiency and productivity of individual sectors and firms.
This is basically an economic study, in the sense that it deals with some of the aspects that continue to prevent Jamaica from capacity development, including the energy sector, communications, transportation, tourism, and agriculture and food processing, among others.
The authors of the study noted that “…Jamaica is an island with a small manpower supply which is accessible only by air and sea.
“In an island economy, investments in human resources and physical infrastructure must be approached differently in order to gain high, sustainable, and equitable growth.
“Furthermore, in the light of the island’s climatic and geographic characteristics, in addition to its small size and relatively small labour force, Jamaica is neither self-sufficient nor competitive in the world market.
“Thus, a very important sector of the economy is the export sector which comprises, among other items, Jamaican bauxite, sugar, tourism, and several offshore banking services.
“Therefore, it is very important for the entire economy to grow and become more efficient and productive. This will also provide the basis for self-sustaining growth and poverty reduction.
More importantly, from the point of view of foreign investment and business productivity, the authors stated, “Jamaica’s establishment as an industrial and service-oriented economy is far from being achieved.
“In fact, there is no specific development strategy to make the economy more productive and efficient.
“Furthermore, it is important to note that Jamaica does not have exclusive competence in the delivery of services and products, even though it has a large number of highly educated professionals.
“This situation is a result of Jamaica’s small size, its current social and economic structure, and its comprehensive dependence on external markets.
“In order to improve and increase performance in the economy, it is important to find ways to harness the available labour force.
“Thus, it is very important to address the labour force issue from the point of view of productivity, remuneration, and improvement in working conditions and the prevention of unhealthy and unproductive behaviour.
“Furthermore, despite the knowledge that has been accumulated over the past several years on structural unemployment and underemployment, these issues and their consequences for the economy have not been designed in a structured manner.”
From the study, the authors commented on Jamaica’s economic performance in the post-economic crisis period of 1988-1991 and provided comparative data to 1990 and projected figures for 1994.
They noted that “…the stagnation of the Jamaican economy in the post-September 1988 period was the worst economic decline since independence.
“However, the economy rebounded very quickly when in 1991 an election campaign began with relatively little employment interruption.
“The performance of the Jamaican economy in the early, middle, and late years of the programme period suggests that the implementation of the programme was successful.
“National economic performance over the five-year period was associated with major changes in social and economic conditions, particularly in the labour market.
“Thus, it remains to be seen whether the achievement of the programme will significantly alter the social and economic conditions.
“In the past, relief programmes have had a significant impact on the economy, but have not significantly altered the social and economic conditions.
“The programme appears to respond to the needs of the poor by providing them with a mechanism through which their conditions may be improved in the long run.
“However, such improvements may be insufficient to change the social and economic conditions in a meaningful manner.
“The Jamaica planning exercise provides an opportunity to address some of the hard questions that have been raised in the past through other types of programmes.”
The study concluded, “The provision of government services, as well as the maintenance of a viable economic infrastructure, requires an adequate number of quality personnel in all sectors of the economy.
“Jamaica, as a small island state, is not self-sufficient, and it has not always been successful in attracting the necessary skills from.