Prisma Reports (PR): The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade is to spearhead work on several of the Government’s priority projects during the 2017-18 fiscal year, with an emphasis on expanding trade and investment, and the completion of the Foreign Trade Policy. Kindly discuss these priority projects and the main highlights of the Foreign Trade Policy.
Kamina Johnson Smith (KJS): The lynchpin, in so far that Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade is concerned, is the finalisation of our Foreign Trade Policy. Work on that policy started in 2011. The truth is - there are still updates being made as 2016 was a very interesting year globally - so we felt it was important to return to the situational analysis in order to make sure that we are positioning ourselves appropriately where trade is concerned.
For some matters, with regards to trade, will be impacted by changes in our nearest and dearest friends – the United States of America. They are our largest trading partner – 30% of our exports and/or imports. As such they are one of the key geographical areas that need to be focused on. We are pleased that there was bi-partisan support for the new Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act (CABERA) – the Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act. This is supposed to set a three-year strategy in place for the US Congress to sign off on for engagement with the Caribbean. We are hoping that this will be the new pathway for enhancing engagement as well as the CBI and other avenues that continue to exist.
We are reviewing our relationship with Caricom and the Cariforum bodies. We have the CCRC – Caricom and Cariforum Review Commission. It was established by the Prime Minister last year and sits under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. They are finalising the report now and we should have it this side of the financial year. This report is extremely important when it comes to positioning ourselves in the regional economy with respect to trade. Jamaica feels strongly that we should look not just at our nearest Anglophone neighbors but also at the Northwestern aspect of the Caribbean. We are looking to form strong relationships with Cuba and the Dominican Republic – as well as with our Latin American partners such as Mexico and Panama.
sed in BPO, logistics and shipping industries as well as in tourism expansion.
With regards to Panama, we signed a framework commission agreement when the Prime Minister and I were invited to witness the new expansion of the Panama Canal. We had the opportunity to sign the agreement with Minister Saint Malo (Vice President of Panama and Minister for Foreign Affairs). The first meeting of the commission takes place this year to set the framework for: co-operation and logistics, trade and youth development exchange - as we also have to look at the social aspects of national development. For this administration, growth should not only be numerical. It cannot be exclusive, it must be inclusive and it must be sustainable. We take the perspective that no one should be left behind seriously. You will see that youth and development is a key aspect in much of what we do. This is in fact one of the focus shifts that has taken place in Foreign Affairs. Jamaica is well known for its principled positions in terms of our international affairs and relations. We generally operate at a much higher level than our size and GDP should dictate. This is because we have always had a very developed, thoughtful and expansive view of how we should participate in world affairs. That is being adjusted slightly to ensure that all of these positions relate back to national development in a very specific way. We want to make sure that we are able to link our relationships to national development and the development of our people. In addition - our largest population demographic at the moment is the youth and so you will find that most of our discussions in respect to framework co-operations have a youth aspect to them. This is something we are spearheading and seeking to encourage.
PR: The Government is undertaking great efforts to enhance the ease of doing business and has undertaken a series of pro-investment policy reforms intended to improve Jamaica’s investment climate, which already showed an improvement in the World Bank’s Doing Business Index. How would you describe today’s investment environment?
KJS: We still have work to do, but we are pleased to note the progress that we are making. The administration is very committed to ensuring we create the environment for business to prosper. We are clear that it is the government’s job to create the framework for trade and commerce. We will negotiate the agreements, and in order to do so we need to ensure that we are better informed by the private sector priorities, and that the private sector is better informed about the opportunities we are creating. Therefore, we will work together to ensure that the private sector – the one who actually trades, I think that sometimes governments forget that it is the private sector who trades, governments do not - has an effective communications process to meet their needs and provide opportunities. We are pleased to recognise that we have experienced the highest business and consumer confidence since the commencement of those surveys in Jamaica. These are good indicators that things are happening in a very positive way in the business environment.
PR: As former Corporate Governance Committee of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), what is the importance of the private sector in Jamaica’s development?
KJS: We believe in private sector led growth. We believe that if we can get our processes to move more effectively and efficiently they will not only eliminate corruption but enable businesses to run better. They will allow the private sector to run their businesses more effectively. As such, we are focused on eliminating red tape where it exists, consolidating ministries and departments to ensure that duplication and misallocation of resources is minimised. The truth is that when you are a small nation with such a heavy resource constraint, you have to think seriously on how to be more efficient in the use of those resources. That kind of approach builds trust in the government from the private sector – improving the relationship.
The government is also focused on ensuring that our boards run better, as this is a key function of governance. When we left power the last time, we had drafted a public governance policy. That has been reviewed and expanded. It covers areas from gender to youth representation on governmental boards. It of course also ensures that we have appropriate structures in place to prevent against an overlap between the executive and government boards, and to ensure that government bodies, departments and agencies are running correctly. This will help to boost the private sector.
PR: The Minister of Transport and Mining said Jamaica is open and ready to do business with those who are looking for investments that can become game changing. What opportunities for direct investment and/or public-private partnerships would you like to convey to Foreign Policy readers and the international community?
KJS: We know that as near-shore environment English speakers, who are well trained, we provide a great worker base for BPO industries, and not just at the low skilled call center level. We also have law schools and lots of young people coming out of our universities trained in accounting and management to provide higher level skills to provide support for back office functions to corporations in the US and other English speaking countries. Expanding this, raising the level of employment for the people, whilst providing a useful level of service support for our neighbors is something we continue to encourage.
Infrastructure is always important. For us it is important for employment and for the development of the nation - all goals can be met through the expansion of our national infrastructure.
Similarly, in tourism - we are expanding quite significantly in this sector. The Minister of Tourism is dealing with, amongst other things, “all-inclusive hotels” – we have seen significant growth there. Furthermore, we are seeing growth in eco-tourism, health tourism and community tourism – ensuring that our culture, Jamaican culture, which is what we are best known for – our music, our food, people, the way we are; we want to allow people to participate more in that experience. The Ministry is supporting this through negotiating air-service agreements as well as exploring multi-destination tourism with our larger Latin American and Caribbean partners.
PR: As you stated, Jamaica’s best days still lie ahead, and you are committed to playing your part in seeing them realised. Peter Ferdinand Drucker said “the best way to predict the future is to create it.” What is the future you want to create for Jamaica?
KJS: A Jamaica where every young person has the opportunity to be their best. A Jamaica where our environment remains pure and sustainable; where we play our part in ensuring that the seas and oceans of the world are clean and provide food and minerals not just for industrial development but also smaller industries such as fishing. A Jamaica where we are growing at our true potential. Growing in an inclusive way. Where we are able to provide the services that a country should to its people – safety, health, education – at the highest levels. The private sector, being sustainable, will do the rest.
PR: If an investor or tourist is looking for places to invest or visit – why should they choose Jamaica?
KJS: Because there is no better place. We are at that point, the cusp, where we are providing opportunities for growth and for profit. The administration is quite clear and confident about the path we are on, this has been supported by the rating agencies. We feel that the bilateral, regional and multilateral relationships that we have will continue to sustain us on the path we are on – which is a positive one. So to investors, I would say – get in now whilst there is space!
PR: Given that you are the first woman to be a Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister in Jamaica, on the subject of female empowerment – what message do you want to send to women in Jamaica and around the world about achieving their aspirations?
KJS: The sky is the limit. Live your dreams. Get your education. Believe in yourself. Acknowledge the changes that are happening globally and know that you can be a part of that.
I have been in meetings with foreign senior diplomats who have stated that diplomacy in Jamaica is very feminine when they looked at my team across the table. The fact is that all the senior management are women, the Ministry is roughly 80% women, which was previously never the case.
I believe that women need to own their space, whilst recognising that life is about partnership. There are always debates about changing the power dynamic – the idea that in order to gain more power, you must be disempowering. I truly believe that we can find balance by recognising growth is about partnership. Whether that is between men and women, private and public sector, developing and developed nations.