Aubyn Hill | Is JAMPRO a hindrance to exports?
This week, JAMPRO scheduled another of its many workshops, this time in Montego Bay. It was labelled 'Step-by-step guide to exporting'.
Given that the well-staffed agency's remit is to promote trade and investment, it is probably alright for it to host and pay for another workshop for, we hope, numerous existing and prospective exporters. Lord knows we need many more to earn the very scarce hard currency, demanded by the IMF and other lenders, to pay down our debt.
When we look at our trade balances since over the past decade or so, the Jamaican record is not a ringing endorsement for JAMPRO's continued existence and funding. Except, of course, if JAMPRO were to be credited with only our import bills, which are about five times that of our exports.
The poor results on the export ledger is an indictment of our export promotion and export drivers. The negative balance of trade - imports far exceed exports - must have the leaders of JAMPRO constantly wondering why they were cursed with this portfolio, or constantly in a state of anxiety and doubt about their ability to perform.
Executives at JAMPRO will no doubt point out quickly that they have other duties to attend to and will claim credit for bringing in foreign direct investment (FDI). Many will attach a significant discount to that claim based on the growth of FDI over the years, even if some of us will give a measure of credit to Diane Edwards for the energy and apparent better focus she has brought to the organisation since she joined as president.
'Book of bureaucracy'
Many exporters - large and small - are decidedly unhappy with the discouraging hurdles of bureaucracy that they have to face when trying to export anything from Jamaica. Many have contacted me with disbelief, with disgust and in despair for their businesses and our country.
The extreme difficulty of our export regime is in marked contradistinction to the ease with which importers can import all kinds of goods and services into Jamaica, and in the process export and maintain non-Jamaican jobs in foreign and often richer countries.
In response to JAMPRO's invitation to yet another workshop, one exporter, Roger Chang, wrote an email to the executive at JAMPRO and copied me along with a list of others, including Anthony Hylton - the Cabinet minister responsible for JAMPRO and trade and investment - and gave me permission to publish his mail.
"Why would anyone need a workshop to export? Means JAMPRO is not doing what should be done. As a small business, and exporting, I can tell you first hand, exporting for small business is ridiculous. To have a workshop only emphasises how difficult it is to export. And I have to pay Jampro to export," Mr Chang wrote.
"You need to stop wasting my taxpayer's money on this useless workshop and make exporting for small businesses as easy as possible. How can JAMPRO be promoting exporting and putting on a workshop? You should be removing all barriers for exporters. The last container I exported took me 39 pages of documents. I call it a 'book of bureaucracy'. It is so much easier to import than to export ... . Fix it!!!
"Stop wasting my tax money and go and remove all barriers for exporters."
His email was signed 'Roger Chang, Fedup Exporter'.
I must confess that I simply cannot understand why JAMPRO needs to install itself in the exporting process, and then charge exporters a fee after taxpayers pay a huge annual sum for what many see as a very bloated and expensive government agency.
Chop and fix
We need to ask ourselves if JAMPRO should exist, and if after careful consideration, based on the evidence that exists and the current and future direction and needs of the country, what the right function and size of that expensive agency ought to be.
While it continues, JAMPRO needs, immediately, to change the export regime that now governs the exporting of goods and services. Its publicly stated aim should be to reduce the export documentation from any exporter to one page. The aim must be publicly stated with a tight timeline so JAMPRO and its executives can be held accountable. After all, they are funded from the public purse.
Instead of getting in the way of exporters and becoming an obstacle, and then charging exporters a fee for the privilege, JAMPRO needs to realise that one of its main reasons to exist is to help exporters trade their goods and services quickly.
With that new and transforming objective in mind, the first thing it should do is to extricate itself from the process since it will quickly find that the value it adds is probably minimal and can be done elsewhere, or need not be done at all.
And that fee, it has to go because it is simply another tax on struggling exporters who should be given every encouragement to earn hard currency from exports.
One suspects that the vast majority of those 39 pages in Mr Chang’s export ‘book of bureaucracy’ have been around for decades and really serve no current useful service. Similarly, many of the agencies and government departments to which exporters must attend to get an item exported add no value and provide terrible and costly humbug.
We seem to want to prevent any mishap – as if exporters cannot look after their best interest against clear rules and guidelines, and light-touch encouragement and supervision. No doubt, the JAMPRO problem is multiplied across many government departments and agencies. Look at our falling exports and practically no-growth economy for the evidence.
Aubyn Hill is CEO of Corporate Strategies Ltd and chairman of the Economic Advisory Council of the opposition leader.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @hillaubyn Facebook: facebook.com/hillaubyn