I have the distinct honour of saying welcome to Jamaica for all our first-time investors and visitors. Your presence at this forum signals that we are strengthening confidence in Jamaica’s business environment. The Jamaica Investment Forum represents one of Jamaica’s key initiatives designed to secure new investors and cement the decisions of investors who have indicated interest in our country.
As it stands, the forum is achieving its objectives with past events, creating over six thousand (6000) jobs and over US $300 million in investment. If you ask me, I think that that is a success so I want to congratulate Diane and her staff at JAMPRO, and I want to in particular point out the great work that has been done by the Chairman of JAMPRO and one of our leading entrepreneurs, Mr Don Wehby.
Now, I don’t usually try to take the credit but I’m a politician, I can’t help it, but for a brief time about two years, I was the minister responsible for JAMPRO but then I decided that I would have another minister who is very energetic, who was an investment promotion specialist himself to take the lead in JAMPRO and you may have heard from last night I gather, Minister Audley Shaw and of course none of this would be possible without our sponsors putting up the resources to put this conference together and I want to thank them and make the pitch right here for next year.
Ladies and gentlemen my presence here is to affirm that Jamaica is ready to connect for your business and we are ready to connect your business with Jamaica. I want to give you just some context about Jamaica. Clearly, investors want to be certain about the environment in which they are going to place their hard-earned funds. I too have a very limited exposure to investments and investing decisions, so I understand how difficult it is to get investors to part with their capital in unknown environments. It’s a little bit of a contradiction because investors are generally risk-takers but the contradiction is the risks-takers surprisingly wants to be very certain before they take risks.
So, what Jamaica is offering is a certain environment, an environment in which you can take a risk. We weren’t always that certain environment but several crisis met at an intersection and created an opportunity. In 2009, when all countries faced the global financial fallout, global crisis, Jamaica found itself where it had a debt to GDP ratio of close to a 147%. Our reserves were tumbling, confidence had waned significantly in the economy and we approached the IMF.
Luckily, Jamaica has had a very long, deep and strong history of democracy and that democracy does not always rest on politics, it rests heavily on a very strong civil society and often times it is the civil society that whips the politics into shape and in the face of crisis the Civil Society came on board. Our business class came on board and the political class came on board and we reached a consensus and the consensus is that Jamaica must have fiscally prudent policies. To the point now, having had this consensus last across administrations, we now hear business people not talking so much about fiscal issues but business people are now talking about is growth. We now have economic certainty. Fiscal discipline is a part of the DNA of the government regardless of the whichever administration is in power and if I were an investor I would be very happy with a country that has finally achieved that status and I would clap for that.
It was not easy. I’m not here telling you that it was easy, it was a very difficult time for Jamaica for the Jamaican people made the sacrifice and I mean I’m speaking to an audience that would understand that placing 7% for a primary surplus is not an easy task for any country to do and we’ve done that now since 2013.
I guess the best index of our success would be that we’ve reduced our debt from a 147% of GDP to now at the end of this fiscal year we would be below 100% of GDP and we’re not about to allow that sacrifice to be wasted so, we had setup as a consensus what we call the EPOC, The Economic Policy Oversight Committee and that committee is a combination of civil society, business interests and the government to supervise the consensus around fiscal discipline.
Now, we’re going to transition that into an independent fiscal council, a new authority to ensure that government never breaches the fiscal consensus in the country, so we’re now institutionalizing proper fiscal management not necessarily in our constitutional arrangement but the protection that will be placed around it, it will be almost constitutional and therefore investors can take comfort that you are engaging in an economic environment that will have long-term stability and certainty for your investment.
The context in which we’re holding this investment is one where we can be proud of achieving good monetary policy, good fiscal policy, we’re now at the point where the intention of government policy is to build on economic stability, to get now on the certain pathway of economic growth. And economic has been a challenge for Jamaica for decades but I believe now that we’re turning the corner; welcome Mr Shaw.
I believe we’re turning the corner so if you now ask us what is our economic doctrine, what is it that we believe in? I think you could say adherence to fiscal discipline and the creation of a certain fiscal environment. I think you could also say that we believe in bringing down our debt. Our target is 60% of GDP and we’re going to get there.
Those two things would necessarily mean that we would also have to believe in maintaining a flexible exchange rate and that’s very important for investors; absolutely important and I want to emphasize that to this audience that we believe our economic policy is a flexible exchange rate and I don’t have to go into why that is important. Every investor here would understand why a flexible exchange rate is important to your investments. It would also mean that we have to take a partnership approach with the private sector and I want our investors here to feel the warm embrace of partnership.
This government recognizes that our role is to support you, our role is to create the environment in which you can do what only you can do best and that partnership therefore informs a policy of public/ private partnerships. It informs a policy of divestment of government assets particularly assets whose full utility and value is not being recognized under government ownership and management so we have a policy of the full utilization of government assets. So, if the best utilization is with the private sector then that is where it will be. It also drives another policy and that policy is that we must make it easier for you to do business.
Now, I want to report that Jamaica is ranked #1 in doing business in the Caribbean but as is my nature, I’m a very practical person so hasten to add that we’re only 70th in the world so we have a far way to go but I want you to appreciate that if your investment zone is this region then you’re making the best choice in Jamaica.
So, though I’m here as a salesman, I’m talking to people who are in the know and therefore the best strategy is to be realistic about what it is that we want to do and our intention of course is to be number one, that you should know it is our aspiration to do this and it is also our commitment to do this which leads us to another very important policy which as investors you should know about and that is the government is absolutely committed to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the public sector.
In other countries the debate is about small government, we’re already a small government so for us the debate is getting government to be at the right size, to getting our government to be nimble and responsive while at the same time being aspirational, thinking big and being innovative even disruptive in how we create a regulatory environment and a policy environment in which you will operate and that debate is ongoing. It is part of our IMF Programme and we’re seeing the effects of it already. We’ve started to merge operations, we’ve started to rational operations and it is creating a better environment which is why we are number one in the region and constantly improving at every year’s measure of the ease of doing business so I want to assure you as investors of the improvement in the regulatory environment in which you are likely to be operating in.
Jamaica continues to attract significant investments. I believe last year the figure I saw is that we probably attracted close to a billion US dollars in FDI and that is significant so investors all around the world are seeing the benefits and the possibilities of investing Jamaica.
China and Chinese companies continue to plant their stake in Jamaica because they obviously see strategic economic advantages for Jamaica. Primarily location but also significant commodity resources bauxite being a significant one and JISCO some of you may have known bought one of our bauxite producing plants in Jamaica and is about to make significant investments in that plant but that investment is also leading to other investments. There is now I would say more than just a notional conversation about the establishment of an economic industrial park in Jamaica. In fact, it is quite advanced and the value of that investment could be anywhere from 3.7 billion US dollars to 6 billion US dollars.
Now I want to place that in context, that Jamaica’s GDP is somewhere in the region of about 14.5 billion US dollars, so I make the point to the investors who are here that you are coming into an economy relatively small but has tremendous potential for expansion so if you get in now imagine what the value of your investment stake will be five, ten, fifteen years’ time. Pair that with the commitment of government to good policy and good politics. Jamaica is the right business proposition for you.
I want you to also know that Jamaica does not shy away from its brand positioning in the market. I give you a story, and you know when we say a story in Jamaica it’s not true but this is a true story.
Recently I was at a certain global event and I invited a certain world leader to come to Jamaica and well I invited two. I’ll give you both responses and you go and figure out which world leaders these are. One said ” I really would like to come to Jamaica. I came to Jamaica when I was eighteen and I had a wonderful time but if I were to come to Jamaica now, my voters would think that I’m going on vacation” and the other world leader said, ” I know Jamaica very well but if I come to Jamaica I’m going to get into trouble.”
So, clearly Jamaica’s brand position by virtue of our significant tourism product is a place of fun. A part of Jamaica’s business is that we are in the business of fun; tourism, vacation, enjoyment and that’s big business. Absolutely nothing wrong with that and we will continue to develop our position in that market. In fact, our tourism is growing significantly and we’re very proud of that and I want to use this opportunity to congratulate the Minister of Tourism and his staff. I believe I’ve seen the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism here- for the wonderful work that they have been doing. We recorded 4.3 million visitors last year and we’re 5.5% ahead of that figure here today but I say that to say that Jamaica wants to be the centre of the Caribbean.
Indeed, we’re already the centre of the Caribbean from a geographic perspective. We’re the centre of the Caribbean from a cultural perspective. We are the centre of the Caribbean from a lifestyle perspective but we want to be as well the centre of the Caribbean for innovation and technology. We want to be the centre of the Caribbean for trade and commerce and the logistics and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) and Agri-Business and energy and we are working towards that and we extend ourselves, we extend our hands in partnership with our investors.
Come. Make the investment in Jamaica. Be part of the dream. Thank you.