Sun | Feb 25, 2018

No disruption to trade with Jamaica post-Brexit, says High Commisisoner

Published:Thursday | February 8, 2018 | 12:33 PMMcPherse Thompson

There will be no disruption to the trade arrangements between Jamaica and other members of CARIFORUM as a result of the impending separation of Britain from the European Union, High Commissioner to Jamaica Asif Ahmad has assured.

But Ahmad said his ambition goes beyond that, explaining why the relationship will be different post-Brexit.

He said that since Jamaica became politically independent in 1962, the United Kingdom has reduced its commercial interaction with its former colony rather than expanding it.

The High Commissioner said when Jamaica gained independence the United Kingdom probably had as close to 100 per cent of the market share in Jamaican commerce, but now with Jamaica’s imports of more than US$1.4 billion per annum Britain is selling only US$80 million worth of goods to Jamaica.

“We have simply fallen off the radar and our mission really is to redress that and I think in many respects Brexit will be an opportunity that will become apparent,” he said while speaking at a Leaders-to-Leaders forum at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel, New Kingston on Wednesday.

Ahmad said he believe the relationship will be different post-Brexit because “I do not have to think what other members of the EU think about our relationship with Jamaica. We can strike our own bilateral deal or a regional one. You can decide with us whether you want these terms or not. But the guarantee we are giving is that the economic partnership agreement and the Cotonou (agreement) and its featured iterations we start with that in the bag. We will not be any worse off than where we are right now.”

Outlining some of the opportunities Jamaica has in terms of trade with the United Kingdom, the High Commissioner recalled that Britain argued fervently for the original banana regime “because we wanted to protect Jamaica. It hasn’t helped. Jamaica’s exports of bananas to the UK is negligible and in many respects …it has stopped exporting altogether. There is no reason why it shouldn’t.”

Alluding to other products which can be exported to the United Kingdom, Ahmad said “I say this without fear of contradiction – and many of my Jamaican friends have heard me say this – I have not tasted better avocados anywhere else on this planet, but we don’t have Jamaican avocados in the UK.”

He went on: “The instructions I have given to my resident chef is that all my fruits and vegetables have to be sourced from Coronation Market (in Kingston) even if it’s inconvenient. It’s really simple. It’s just good stuff. And it’s fresh.”

Other opportunities also present themselves in export of other agricultural products.

“I serve as ambassador to Thailand where the time from farm to market, priced, labeled and ready to go is 48 hours. Fresh from the fields, on the supermarket shelves, ready to be consumed. Which means you can take your product to near ripeness instead of going through the process of artificial ripening,” Ahmad said.

“But in between many of them have gone into food in the value added sector. And there is no reason why Jamaica can’t do that because there is demand for it. In the UK people are buying products that are labeled Jamaica style when it doesn’t come from here. There are products that are completely fictitiously labeled that they are sourced from Jamaica  when they are not,” he said.

There are also opportunities in financial services, said the High Commissioner. He said that while some of Jamaica’s financial institutions have a presence in Britain through representative offices, he gave an open invitation to any of those institutions to set up full subsidiaries there.

“And as we do that, (we can) start to address the problem that financial institutions in Jamaica are facing of being taken out of the marketplace through what is called derisking. We don’t want to derisk Jamaica of the UK. We are partners of the financial system and we welcome you there,” he said.

- mcpherse.thompson@gleanerjm.com