Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Martin Henry | Capitalising on Trump presidency

Published:Sunday | January 29, 2017 | 1:00 AM
Martin Henry
United States President Donald Trump tucks away his notes near the conclusion of a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May in the East Room of the White House in Washington last Friday.
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Jamaica-United States trade surpassed Jamaica-British trade for the first time in 1899. So reports the Handbook of Jamaica, a bit of obscure data I bucked up by chance while searching for something else in the HoJ. That trade switchover was 118 years ago. And there has been no turning back.

The banana trade, which Jamaica invented when an American sailing ship's captain Lorenzo Baker took a sample of fruit from Port Antonio to Boston in 1874, was a major cause of the trade switchover. Hardly anybody now remembers that Jamaica became the world's leading banana exporter by the early decades of the 20th century. The market? Market USA, not Britain.

When Alfred DaCosta discovered in the early 1940s from soil tests that the poor red dirt on his farm in St Ann was bauxite, the ore for aluminium, a new metal with then rising global demand, the Jamaica bauxite-alumina industry was born, with the American mineral giants Kaiser and Reynolds, and ALCAN out of Canada, leading the way. Market America. We hardly remember now that Jamaica has in the past led the world in bauxite output.

The Great Exhibition of 1891 at Kingston Race Course, where the Wolmer's schools now sit, saw hotels being built to accommodate guests. And so the tourism industry was born, offering a warm-weather destination to northern guests. Market America.

Nobody needs to write in to say that those days of banana and sugar and bauxite and a range of other raw or low-value added products for export will not return. They shouldn't. But America has been our number one trading partner since 1899. And Donald Trump's 'Make America Great Again' and 'America First' presidency is likely to do nothing to damage Jamaica-US relationships on all fronts and particularly with respect to trade. There are all kinds of global crises approaching like apocalyptic horsemen as the folks at the World Economic Forum earlier this month warned us. But the Trump presidency, widely viewed as a global crisis in itself, need not do any special harm to Jamaica and the Caribbean.

What are Jamaica's critical interests in our strong relationship with the US? They are few and they are clear. Our woman in Washington, her diplomatic team there, and our Government here, should be abundantly clear about the matter and allow neither sentiment nor protests to get in the way of extracting maximum national benefits from Jamaica-US relationships during the Trump presidency, which shows absolutely no early signs of wanting to interfere with the basic architecture of US-Jamaica-Caribbean relations.

 

JAMAICA'S INTEREST IN JAMAICA-US RELATIONS

 

Jamaica's crystal clear interests in Jamaica-US relations are access to Market USA for the few things we can produce at competitive advantage; keeping the American tourists coming and in greater numbers; keeping the migration door open wide enough, with its back flow of remittances; keeping alive and expanding the seasonal workers' programmes; aid; and security from stemming the flow of small arms to providing external support in the unlikely event of an external or internal military threat like Grenada 1983.

Nothing has substantially changed in the core architecture of Jamaica-Caribbean-US relationships since President Reagan's Caribbean Basin Initiative of 1984. A trade initiative that we have poorly used, by the way. With all kinds of excuses.

Trump has embarked very vigorously on his presidential goal to put America first and to make America great again. We should follow suit for Jamaica, a mouse in a field of elephants.

For us to double arrival numbers, tourism has to be moved off the coast and out of the stifling all-inclusive model into the mountains and urban centres, diversified from sand, sea, and sun to heritage and environment, food and music, health and history.

We have to raise the spend rate per tourist. And we should get the industry off the Government Budget. The Tourist Board may have done a good job at a certain point in time in the evolution of the business. Government should progressively transfer promotional activity and costs to the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association over a five-year period, leaving the JTB in a policy, regulatory, and supervisory role. If America alone, from its population of around 325 million, sent us twice the number of tourists we now receive from there, and we could induce them to spend more on services and goods here, we'd be fine.

 

FARMING EXCUSES

 

There is less arable land under cultivation today than at Independence, with lower outputs of virtually everything grown in Jamaica. Export banana is dead. Sugar is dying.

Market America, through its government, has offered to this country long-sought-after access for exotic Jamaican fresh farm produce, more than 50 items on the USDA list. They have planted clearance facilities here in Jamaica.

We've been woefully unable to satisfy this rich market potential. We've been busy farming excuses and blaming the offeror for shifting the goal posts. Rural Agricultural Development Authority has a pitiful 100 extension officers servicing 220,000 farmers, most of them small scratchers on suboptimal parcels of land with machete and hoe doing Early Iron Age agriculture in the 21st century.

With an offer like this, the Government should long ago have established a small, lean, and mean squad of technical experts, some in our Washington, DC, embassy, most at home, tasked and properly paid to pull out all the stops, fix all the problems, and get tons and tons of non-traditional Jamaican farm produce into Market USA. It's not too late.

It was so good to see the newspaper report on an old minister of state in agriculture, Brascoe Lee, exporting Ram Goat Soup, Ram It Up Curry Booster, Dried Scotch Bonnet Pepper, etc, into Market America from the backwoods of southern Trelawny, Bolt country. FDA approval on first inspection done in Jamaica.

Lee cannot satisfy the market on his own. He cannot even get enough pepper to process and is setting up his own pepper farm. Spicy Hill Farm is an open door into Market America. That high-powered agri team for Market America should be working with Lee and others like him for expansion and franchising across Jamaica.

Bauxite is sick. But we have in abundance one of the highest, purest grades of limestone in the world, an industrial raw material that Market America needs. Where is that minerals team?

If Trump manages to improve the American economy by even a fraction of promise, the demand for legal migrant workers, including the seasonal farm and hospitality workers that we have been sending, must go up, and with increasing demand, the back flow of remittance on which we are so dependent. So will the demand for imports. So will the flow of tourists.

Unless we think, as we normally do from Jamaican exceptionalism, that we are entitled to special consideration for illegal immigration, the Trump commitment to come down on illegal immigration should not be hurting our legitimate interests. We should be seriously getting into training people for export to Market America. And we should get the receiver to pay.

Whoever is in the White House, there are some key things we need to do to advance our own interests at home and abroad. Pushed by the International Monetary Fund, we have bitten the bullet and, across administrations, substantially fixed our state finances. With more coming. Crime, lawlessness and disorder are seriously damaging growth and development prospects.

We must upgrade infrastructure as a most significant 'backative' for commerce. The US could be a great partner for advancing the logistics hub, in their own interests, of course. The Chinese are coming!

Let's just get on with the business of looking after our own national interest.

- Martin Henry is a university administrator. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and medhen@gmail.com.