Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Bernal: Caribbean policymakers too slouchy

Published:Wednesday | January 20, 2016 | 1:32 PMSteven Jackson

JSE CAPITAL MARKETS CONFERENCE

Trade expert Ambassador Richard Bernal uncharacteristically expressed frustration that Caribbean policymakers react too slowly to global changes.

It came in response to a query from the floor immediately following his formulaic speech on opportunities for the region at the Jamaica Stock Exchange investments and capital markets conference under way in New Kingston.

"I know this might reflect my own personal failure. But I think it’s a bit wider than that. The problem is the Caribbean in terms of policy changes takes too long to respond to new developments in the global economy,” said Ambassador Bernal, counsellor for Jamaica on the Board of Directors of the Inter-American Development Bank, who spoke in his private capacity as an economist.

“I suggest there needs to be a faster pace of response," he said.

Bernal cited the western financial crisis in 2008 as evidence of historical slow reaction by policymakers.
The looming threat now relates to the opening up of Cuba and its impact on tourism for the rest of the region, saying Cuba is already forging links with the fastest growing economy in the world.

"Cuba has direct flights to China. We do not have that," he said, also in response to a query on Tuesday at the conference. "People are salivating about getting into Cuba”.

Bernal was explicit that he was not making the argument that the opening of Cuba was harmful for the Caribbean. “But competition is competition and we need to be ready for that," he added.

His speech at the capital markets conference spoke to opportunities from aligning with China, saying that market will be the second largest source of tourists by 2020.

“We need to recognise that they will not want sun, sea and sand," he said.

The focus on China comes as the European Union, Canada and United States are effectively reducing focus on the region.

"Parts of Europe, certainly Asia and particularly China will become the source countries. Less investment will come from Trinidad in the region and that will have an impact," said Bernal.

The trade ambassador said that despite the fall in China's growth in the medium term, from double-digit levels annually towards 6 per cent, the region needs to forge stronger ties with it.  The fastest growing countries in the Caribbean will shift from south to north with strong trade links into Miami and Panama, he reasoned.

"I believe that the centre of gravity will focus on the northern end of the Caribbean. I see a dynamic working with Miami, Cuba, Bahamas, Cayman, Dominican Republic and possibly Jamaica," he said.

Tourism and energy will continue to earn for the region, while emerging sectors include health care, said the ambassador. 

"Health care in the US is very expensive. Like other industries that are being outsourced, the Caribbean is well placed to service that market from the region, increasingly,” Bernal asserted.

The JSE conference concludes today, Wednesday.

steven.jackson@gleanerjm.com