Prisma Reports (PR): When you became Jamaica’s Prime Minister, you promised to build partnerships to help Jamaica become the “centre of the Caribbean.” You pledged to build partnerships with the private sector, the Jamaican diaspora and international partners to obtain inclusive economic growth and meaningful job creation. What are the tangible results so far after your first year in office?
The Most Honourable Andrew Michael Holness, Prime Minister (PM): There are many tangible results but the most important ones are stability and the sense that economy is settling down and fiscal policy is heading in the right direction. That is absolutely important for business as well as for business and consumer confidence level index. They are at the levels that we have never been seen before in the history of Jamaica. Confidence is really high and not only from consumer point of view but from business point of view. People are now willing to take bets on the future.
We have started to build very strong partnerships with our multilateral friends. Jamaica is getting a new IMF agreement even before completing the current one. That is an ultimate sign of confidence and we appreciate it and will ensure to work seriously to meet all the targets. That is the underwriting of the Government’s policy.
The business sector is very confident and buoyant. Investment projects that could not get under the line are now being looked at as feasible and are being implemented. Serious interests are expressed in BPO, logistics and shipping industries as well as in tourism expansion.
PR: What are Jamaica’s competitive advantages at this moment in time, compared to other Caribbean nations? Why is Jamaica the place to invest or to focus on, if one is an investor, a tourist or a business executive?
PM: Jamaica comparatively has the best tourist product: an incredible environment, the people, the culture, the experience. I do not believe any other country in the Caribbean could compare to Jamaica. But we have also been very competitive tourism wise. People keep coming to Jamaica because of our comparative advantage, primarily because of the experience. We are beginning to get business processes in tourism correct: we are bringing down energy costs, improving training, building new infrastructure. We are improving our competitiveness and investors will seek to come here because it is getting easier. We are building linkages within agriculture and within services sectors and we are improving safety and security, which is a big element in getting that tourism mix right.
PR: The U.S. is Jamaica’s biggest source of trade, tourists and remittances. In December, you spoke to Vice-president Pence and discussed the two countries’ relationship. You expressed optimism about the future, and confirmed Jamaica’s continued interest in building stronger ties with the United States and enhancing current partnerships. How can current diplomatic and commercial relations be further enhanced with the U.S.’ new administration?
PM: Jamaica is very eager to strengthen trade and cooperation with the U.S. There are many opportunities for trade with the U.S. that Jamaica is not fully utilising as yet. Part of the Government’s strategy is to maximise those opportunities that already exist. New opportunities have come on board with energy, which is a good example of how the U.S.–Jamaica relationship can be strengthened. Jamaica is also trying to create a business environment that is more closely aligned with the business environment of the U.S., which will ease the facilitation of investment: reduce corruption, increase the efficiency of public bureaucracy, improve infrastructure and telecommunications, improve national security and regulation of the financial and banking system. From our end, we are trying to make our investment environment more consistent with what American investors expect.
Of course it is important to have a favourable political environment. Jamaica is very much interested in building strong political relationships with the U.S. Government. We see this as an era of change and an era of opportunities. Jamaica has to position itself to take advantage of the opportunities that present themselves. We are not a big country and we can fight our way though the changing dynamics of the world.
PR: Education is a particular sector that you are very passionate about. We agree that education is what defines the future of a nation. Having been the Minister of Education from 2007 to 2012, can you give us some insight into how the education sector is developing in Jamaica?
PM: We went through almost ten years of reforms to make education more demand driven in terms of its offerings and to support and align it with private sector needs. Those reforms continue. Many reforms focused on expanding access and on improving quality. We are taking a second look at the quality issues. The labour force that we have will be able to make entry-level requirements and be able to provide employment for the new jobs.
The challenge is that we are entering a new form of industrial revolution that is driven by technology. Automation and artificial intelligence will virtually eliminate low-level jobs and Jamaica should be prepared for that. While we are very much interested in getting those entry jobs, particularly in logistics and the BPO industry, we are trying to align our training agencies to work in parallel with employment in those areas to create education offerings that will support the up-skilling of those workers. That is presently being done.
PR: There is a significant global competition in trade and investment; countries must find ways to engage with key decision makers and investors. Nation branding is one way to secure long-term economic and political success. You are now talking to the readers of Foreign Policy, one of the most powerful and influential publications worldwide and in the U.S. Which concepts would you like the international community to associate Jamaica with?
PM: Jamaica is emerging as a place of choice to live, work, do business, raise families and to retire in paradise. Jamaica is what we call the zone of peace; it is a place for lifestyle, culture, arts and creativity. But it is also a place for business and it presents excellent opportunities, primarily because of our location, culture and language. Jamaica has a great potential for logistics, the development of BPO and we have resources of bauxite. Tourism is an amazing product and a major driver of growth. There is a great potential for investment in the tourism sector.