Mon | Sep 23, 2019

Rosalea Hamilton | Promoting luxury brands? What about Brand Jamaica?

Published:Sunday | August 25, 2019 | 12:14 AM

On August 9, 2019, while breaking ground for the construction of 754 affordable housing units in Rhyne Park, Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett gleefully announced plans to bring the biggest shopping mall to Montego Bay to enable tourists to buy Prada, Gucci, and Louis Vuitton, among other foreign luxury brands.

Minister Bartlett also announced that Cabinet had approved the amendment of the Schedule of Dutiable Goods to allow for the importation of these big, luxury brands to Jamaica. This announcement comes on the heels of recent news that crime in St James is again on the rise. In June this year, Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) data revealed a shocking 80 per cent increase in murders since the start of this year compared with the same period last year. This, after spending millions (perhaps billions) of dollars on zones of special operations (ZOSOs) and states of emergency (SOEs) in the parish.

As I reflected on these announcements, several questions came to mind: Will the Cabinet amendment make these items duty free? How will this shopping mall address the problem of crime and violence in St James so that tourists will not be deterred from coming to Jamaica and buying luxury brands?

This decision not only serves the interest of a few who will directly benefit, through retailing, but, importantly, will further exacerbate our balance-of-trade deficits as these imported items add to our high and rising import bill. Very little of this spending will trickle down into the volatile communities of St James that are devoid of economic opportunities to generate livable wages, or into the hands of working-class Jamaicans to enable them to purchase the ‘affordable’ housing units in Rhyne Park ranging from $7.9 million to $18 million. Minister Bartlett also noted that the Government is developing the capacity of people in these communities to deliver the supplies that the tourism industry needs. I had even more questions.

Where is Brand Jamaica in all this? In making this decision, has Cabinet reflected on the investment required to develop and promote our own luxury brands? What is the investment being contemplated to promote the luxury brands associated with our own international music/culture and sporting superstars (Bolt, Bob Marley, etc) or to develop new luxury brands through the phethora of creative talents that exist in Jamaica?

I pondered on the longstanding, unkept promise of successive governments to upgrade and transform the craft markets to improve the quality of the shopping experience for tourists. No shopping mall forthcoming there, yet such investments would go a long way towards giving Jamaicans a fighting chance to compete against well-established luxury brands for tourist dollars, with multiplier effects for impoverished, crime-prone communities in St James.

These competing brands have a significant historical head start. The French fashion house, LV, as well as the Italian brands Prada and Gucci, all started during the period 1854 to 1921. During this era, the majority of Jamaicans were grappling with the aftermath of the atrocities of slavery, including the Morant Bay massacre. Back then, (and still today), Jamaican entrepreneurs daily confronted the psychological scars of slavery and socio-economic disadvantages embedded in the inherited structure and culture of our society, which limits their capacity to compete with global brands.

These disadvantages are worsened by governmental decisions that leave entrepreneurs like Lloyd Livingston struggling to make ends meet and care for his sick wife after being evicted from the Constant Spring Market to facilitate road and sewerage upgrades. They are also worsened by the incapacity of successive governments to find long-term, sustainable solutions to the craft and other markets across Jamaica, including the Ray Ray Ground Market razed by fire at least three times in the last two years.

Since the 1800s, Jamaican entrepreneurs have had to make their way and survive within the structures of dilapidated markets. They are unable to get ministerial attention, far less real assistance, in attracting major shopping malls (or equivalent infrastructure upgrade) to allow to them a fighting chance to compete and to overcome historical legacies.

I am saddened that in 2019, Jamaicans are still witnessing governmental decisions that appear to put the interest of foreigners and those with historical advantages before the interest of the majority of Jamaicans. We are also currently coming to grips with decisions about the Cockpit Country that appear to be putting the interest of the 49 per cent foreigner owners of the bauxite company before the interest of Jamaicans. The promotion of luxury brands in a luxury shopping mall constructed by foreigners is just the latest example.

The Jamaican people deserve more. Given our well-known efforts to develop our creative capacities, we deserve strategic policy decisions that actively promote Brand Jamaica. Decisions that take account of our history and what is required to redress historical wrongs and give Jamaican entrepreneurs a fighting chance in a highly competitive global marketplace. Decisions that take account of the full implications of spending Jamaican tax dollars and ministerial capital to support foreign luxury brands, as well as foreign bauxite investors in the midst of evidence of rising crime in St James and in the throes of another corruption scandal.

- Rosalea Hamilton, PhD, is CEO of the LASCO Chin Foundation and founding director of the Institute of Law & Economics. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and rosaleahamilton@gmail.