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Professor says more access to United States markets key to talks

Published:Monday | April 6, 2015 | 12:00 AMDaraine Luton
Professor Densil Williams
Ambassador Audrey Marks

HEAD OF the Mona School of Business and Management, Professor Densil Williams, has placed market access on the table as a critical issue that must be included in discussions with the United States on a new trade agreement.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has said that ironing out a CARICOM-US trade agreement will be a major focus of meetings here this week when Barack Obama marks the first visit to Jamaica by a sitting US president in 33 years.

"If you look at some of the critical things that we face right now, there are these agreements, but when you look at the composition of the agreements, they are signed and say, 'You can do this, you can do that'," Williams told participants in a Gleaner Editors' Forum held last week at the newspaper's North Street, Kingston, offices. "But by the time you start operationalising them, you realise that at the level of the granular, there are certain things that you will just not be able to overcome, for example, non-tariff barriers."

He added: "What you really want to do is to look at market access. Once you deal with that, then you should be able to get more companies being able to get into North America," Williams said.

The US is Jamaica's number one export destination, even when alumina and bauxite are excluded, and represents the most important market for the island.

Jamaica is eligible for preferential access to the US market under the Caribbean Basin Economic Recovery Act, the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBTPA), and the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) programme.

Audrey Marks, former ambassador to Washington, said that similar to when President Ronald Regan visited Jamaica in 1982, she is hoping that Jamaica will use the meeting with Obama to obtain tangible benefits.

"After that visit, we went on a fast track with the Caribbean Basin Initiative," she said.

"The world has changed somewhat. If you look at the statistics, the Caribbean is not exporting enough goods for the focus to remain on a product-based agreement. The focus now should be where we can compete in this knowledge-based world," Marks said.

She said strengthening the framework of the CBI and shifting it from products to services, such as business processing outsourcing, could yield rich dividends for Jamaica and the region.

The CBI Act was established by the US in 1984 to provide economic aid to Jamaica and 23 other countries in the Caribbean and Central America through the waiver of tariff benefits. Under the CBTPA, apparel manufactured in eligible CBI countries from US yarns and fabric, as well as non-textile products excluded from earlier CBI legislation, will enter the US free of quota and duty.

Some of the most successful CBI-eligible products that have been developed for export by both US and Caribbean Basin companies include tropical fruit products and winter vegetables, fresh and frozen seafood, ornamental horticulture, and wood products, including furniture and building materials.

Williams, meanwhile, said that the visit of Obama to Jamaica sends a "powerful signal to the business community that Jamaica is open for business".

"I think it says to the investment community that Jamaica has a strong democracy that works, that the rule of law works, and that Jamaica has a market economy that works," Williams said.

"Those things are critical for the flow of foreign direct investment. It bolsters the confidence of investors that this a place that a president wants to visit," he added.