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Economic zones not enough for growth - World Bank representative

Published:Friday | October 10, 2014 | 12:00 AM
This January 21, 2014 photo shows one of the uninhabited, mangrove-fringed Goat Islands in southern Jamaica. The islands are the proposed site of a Chinese-led port development to be part of a broader logistics hub network in Jamaica. AP

A WORLD Bank official has warned that special economic zones such as those being contemplated for Jamaica are not in and of themselves panaceas in the thrust for economic growth.

Marialisa Motta, practice manager for trade and competitiveness at the World Bank, in an interview with The Gleaner, expressed cautious optimism with the course being charted by Jamaica to establish economic zones.

"I think zones have great potential in Jamaica but, at the same time, we have to learn from international experiences that there have been mixed results," said Motta. "It is very important that we take into account the lessons that we learnt in other countries."

Motta said she was also cautiously optimistic with Jamaica's plans to create a logistics hub, alongside a trans-shipment port to be built on the Goat Islands by Chinese interests, which is expected to be a mega portion of the country's economic zones.

"As with the zones, I am cautiously optimistic. I think it is a great opportunity and Jamaica should seize the opportunity as that is the way to go, but there are a number of things to be put in place for Jamaica to be able to create a logistics hub and the zones around it," she stressed.

The World Bank official warned of possible negative effects if zones are handled improperly. She stressed that this has happened in some countries that have experimented with the concept.

Mixed results

Motta said her caution is based on the failure of economic zones in some countries, even as they have yielded positive results in others.

She warned that pitfalls have occurred in countries that failed to link local businesses with commercial endeavours in economic zones.

"Some of the pitfalls that countries have encountered, and Jamaica could also encounter, is the heavy focus on the zones at the expense of other areas," she cautioned.

Motta is in Jamaica as a senior representative of the World Bank, which is partnering with the country to finance preparations of its policy programme for special economic zones. The bank is spending US$50 million over a five-year period.

"We have just approved a programme of helping to make Jamaica more competitive, and in that project, called 'Competitiveness and Growth', we have specific initiatives aimed at helping the Government come up with the policies and supporting feasibility studies," said Motta.

Having flown into the island to assist with the policy for the proposed economic zone, Motta said the World Bank is moving to see how it can be constructed in the Jamaican context.