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Editorial: Watch Mr Cuomo's Cuba charm offensive, PM

Published:Wednesday | April 22, 2015 | 12:00 AM

During this week, over Monday and Tuesday, Andrew Cuomo, the governor of the US state of New York, spent 24 hours in Havana meeting with government and Cuban business officials. He was head of a business delegation from the state.

Their aim, Mr Cuomo explained, was to be at the head of the queue in drumming up business as President Barack Obama puts in place his policy of normalising relations with Havana, leading, he hopes, to the eventual ending of America's trade embargo on Cuba. But while Cuba was the immediate focus of Mr Cuomo, it is not the only place getting New York's attention.

"We have become more aggressive in going out looking business for New York - what we call Global New York," the governor said in Havana.

But it is not only Mr Cuomo's state that is looking outside the USA for business - and certainly not the only one paying attention to Cuba. Indeed, last month, Missouri sent a trade delegation to the island, led by Georganne Nixon, the wife of that state's governor.

We note these initiatives by American states in the context of two recent developments concerning Jamaica and its own need to generate investment to drive job creation and economic growth. One of these is a result of the same stimuli that are driving US states and members of US corporate boardrooms to begin to head to Havana: Mr Obama's policy shifts and the prospects of America to have normal relations with Cuba. The other is the US president's recent visit to Jamaica.

For decades, Jamaicans and others in the Caribbean have engaged in hypothetical discussions with what could happen to the region if the United States would end the 50-year embargo on Cuba and US capital could freely flow there. But these discussions have centred largely on the likely effects on tourist traffic rather than the broad economy and been bereft of hard, data-driven analysis, or how the region might find advantage in the new environment.

For instance, among the matters that occupied Mr Cuomo and his team were Cuba's new investment/business laws, making it easier to establish private enterprises in that country. Jamaica and its partners in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) ought to have an inside track on that front. For a decade and half they have had a little-utilised trade agreement with Cuba under which they can export most of their products duty-free. Last December, they were reminded by the Cubans of the new investment laws and the promise by both sides to expand their agreement to cover investments.

 

Make use of head start

 

Like Mr Cuomo and New York, Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller should be insisting that Jamaica aggressively begin to find out how it can make use of this head start. But this should be part of a wider strategy to export more and attract foreign direct investment to the island.

Despite some recent initiatives by the trade and investment promotion agency, JAMPRO, as highlighted by its portfolio minister, Anthony Hylton, we do not sense the requisite energy at that institution for aggressive competition for investments - although we like some of their brochures. Jamaica's US$700 million in foreign direct investment last year put it about 80 per cent behind a regional peer like Panama.

We believe that using the impetus of President Obama's visit to the island, the PM should take control of the investment-promotion effort and hit the road like Mr Cuomo.