Editorial: Hit the road for investments, PM
Barack Obama might not have come bearing gifts, but he did leave Jamaica something of significant value: a platform from which to accelerate and expand a push for foreign investment. But the opportunity has to be grasped in a hurry, before the wake of Mr Obama's visit recedes.
In fact, this is a project that this newspaper believes is of such potential worth that Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller should be at its forefront. She should be on the road with an agency like JAMPRO, supported by private-sector organisations and company bosses, selling Jamaica to prospective investors, and be prepared to defend the efficacy and cost of the effort.
The logic of this idea ought to be obvious. When a United States president comes to town, he invariably draws a lot of attention, from which Jamaica has benefited over the past week, but with an added advantage. Mr Obama told the world that Jamaica is doing the right things to put its fiscal house in order, a fact that will resonate with potential investors. He also made another important, though self-evident point - that Jamaica would accelerate the pace at which it brings down its relative debt by growing its economy faster.
Jamaica's fiscal bind
The reality is that Jamaica's fiscal circumstances means that the Government can't indulge in the kind of stimulus spending that helped drag America's economy in the aftermath of the 2008 financial meltdown and the Great Recession, and the domestic private sector doesn't have the capital to fund the effort at the speed required. In foreign direct investment (FDI) lies a significant part of the answer, but the country is not getting enough of it, at least relative to some of its regional peers.
For instance, while the US$567 million in FDI that flowed to Jamaica in 2013 was 16 per cent more than the previous year and five per cent higher than that of 2009, before a collapse of the flow of private capital to the island, it was less than 40 per cent of the high point of 2008. Significantly, too, FDI receipts in 2013 were only 28 per cent of the Dominican Republic - which had a 37 per cent decline from the previous year - and only 21 per cent of that of its English-speaking CARICOM partner, Trinidad and Tobago, similar to the rate by which it lagged Costa Rica. However, foreign investment in Jamaica that year was 12 per cent of what went to Panama.
'We are too passive'
Obviously, there is still much gear-shifting to be done to get Jamaica's economy to a place where foreign capital is eager to flow, like Panama's in recent years. But we believe, as President Obama acknowledged, that some important things have been achieved. Yet, they are not being pursued with the passion we had hoped, not least the selling of the country as a place to invest. We are too passive.
For instance, one of the collateral events of last week's Summit of the Americas in Panama City was a CEO forum at which several Latin American leaders pitched their countries. Jamaica, unfortunately, was not among them. There were addresses by Belize's Dean Barrow and Trinidad and Tobago's Kamla Persad-Bissessar, but no coordinated CARICOM presence.
That has to change. The Government has to shift gear. Every opportunity must be grasped. In the wake of Mr Obama, PM Simpson Miller should hit the road. Fast!