Tue | Sep 22, 2020

Elizabeth Morgan | Demonstrating that foreign trade is a national priority

Published:Wednesday | September 9, 2020 | 12:12 AM
As the prime minister names the new members of his Cabinet, he should return to appointing two ministers in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. Here, Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith is presented with the instrument of appointme
As the prime minister names the new members of his Cabinet, he should return to appointing two ministers in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. Here, Foreign Affairs Minister Kamina Johnson Smith is presented with the instrument of appointment by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen at the swearing in ceremony, held at King’s House on Monday.

With the Prime Minister now sworn in for another term as chief executive in government and is assembling his new Cabinet, this week I am again focusing on Jamaica, following on from last week’s article on the country’s trade performance.

In 2019, Jamaica’s merchandise exports to the world were valued at US$1.59 billion, imports at US$6.34 billion, with the balance of trade being negative US$4.75 billion. Exports were 25 per cent of imports. Earnings from tourism (trade in services) were estimated at US$3.70 billion. Thus, the tourism earnings plus the goods exports do not cover the cost of goods imports.

The Statistical Institute of Jamaica reports that for January to May 2020, imports were down by 29.4 per cent, traditional exports down by 48.6 per cent, and non-traditional by 1.5 per cent. Alumina has been down by 57 per cent. Information from the Jamaica Tourist Board shows that tourist arrivals for the period April to July 2020 have contracted severely. Arrivals in April to July 2019 were estimated at 1.3 million, for the same period in 2020, arrivals were 49,129.

The Bank of Jamaica has advised that overall, the economy could contact by 7-10 per cent in fiscal year 2020-21. This is further confirmation that Jamaica needs to increase its exports of goods and services in these challenging times.

In 2018, after seven years of work involving consultations within the public and private sectors and civil society, the Cabinet and Parliament endorsed the new National Foreign Trade Policy which identified foreign trade as a national priority. The policy’s implementation requires the “all-of-government approach” and the involvement of the private sector. The aim is to upgrade Jamaica’s trade regime to meet the requirements of the evolving regional and international trade architecture and position the country to expand its exports.

In another article in February 2019, I pointed to the need for a new CARICOM foreign trade strategy and agenda, as members of CARICOM are required to coordinate their foreign trade policies.

TWO FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTERS

As the prime minister names the new members of his Cabinet, I believe he should return to appointing two ministers in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. One should be a member of parliament who can report and respond to questions in the House. The foreign ministry, for many governments, holds a much-respected position in the Cabinet, given the importance of its work, especially in economic and trade diplomacy.

In its history, in Jamaica, a prime minister, a former prime minister and at least two deputy prime ministers have held this portfolio. It was the custom for this ministry to have at least two ministers, a senior and a junior, until the 2016-2020 term when, consistently, only one was appointed from the Senate.

As I stated in last week’s article, for Jamaica, a small, open economy, the international context is critical. The foreign ministry is a high-pressure entity which carries a large volume of work and a considerable amount of overseas travel. It is definitely not a nine-to-five job, and it now requires coordination with every other ministry, department and agency.

I have noted that several countries are now appointing their foreign minister from the Senate as it can pose risks for a member of parliament facing the electorate. Nevertheless, in my view, the ministry needs to have a minister in the House, and a minister from the Senate should be able to participate in the Sectoral Debate.

To further spotlight foreign trade, I would like to see that second minister appointed at a level which enables their participation in Cabinet meetings and attendance at regional and international trade meetings with the full rank. This would possibly be a minister without portfolio, as his or her assignment would include the foreign trade portfolio, which involves bilateral, regional and multilateral trade issues. This person would be responsible for further advancing the implementation of the Foreign Trade Policy, coordination through the various established bodies, and would report to the Cabinet on any progress, as necessary.

This ministerial appointment would demonstrate that the Government is not only according importance to foreign policy, but also high priority to foreign trade, in keeping with the National Foreign Trade Policy and recognising its substantial contribution to the economy.

Elizabeth Morgan is a specialist in international trade policy and international politics. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.