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On your marks - Local manufacturers urged to be first out the blocks after COVID

Published:Thursday | April 9, 2020 | 12:00 AMPaul Clarke/Gleaner Writer

When Jamaica starts emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, it should look for opportunities to raise the level of exports, says Mark Williams, CEO of Kingston Wharves Limited.

“We can feed Jamaica, and perhaps we can do that well, but there is now the new normal, which is for us to again emerge as the main country in the Caribbean, serving the region,” Williams said during a Jamaica Customs Agency (JCA) online forum yesterday.

He said it would be prudent for Jamaica to grasp all available opportunities as the crisis deals a blow to economies across the world. He pointed out that the Government and the private sector were already proving flexible in creating new opportunities from the pitfalls.

Williams highlighted efforts being made to turn produce which would normally be consumed in the now-shuttered tourism sector into juices.

“I know Richard Pandohie and his team are pushing forward. I think we can now be very focused as a country and use this effort and feed the region.”

Charles Johnston, head of the Shipping Association of Jamaica, said that growing exports comes down to a matter of productivity.

“Can we supply the products at a price sufficiently low enough that will allow us to compete with other people?” he asked. “So maybe now the products are not coming from everywhere, we have a chance, but in the main, we have to be productive, so let’s hope that our farmers and producers realise this and come to this with a renewed effort to become more productive.”

PRODUCTIVITY HURDLE

“At the end of the day, we have to get our cost of production right to compete externally, and we have a productivity issue, which we can resolve with the appropriate application of technology,” reasoned David Martin, deputy vice-president of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters’ Association.

He said that a major hindrance to boosting productivity in Jamaica is the high cost of inputs, which makes local products very uncompetitive on the international market.

“The manufacturers and exporters have advocated for the Government to offer us some sort of incentive via tax relief on the money we spend on research and development,” Martin said, highlighting one way that the Government could assist.

First vice-president of the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce, Michael McMorris, said that it is the private sector that must have the responsibility in raising export levels.

He said, however, that there are long-standing barriers to exporting, including bureaucratic hurdles, and that the present time affords industry players a chance to determine what is essential to realising a steep increase in exports.

At the same time, Customs Commissioner Velma Ricketts Walker has indicated that the JCA is likely to see a shortfall in earnings due to measures being implemented to contain the deadly coronavirus.

“For the last fiscal year, we note that the revenue remained on target for year-to-date. We would have experienced a shortfall in March of 2020, which is understandable, given what is going on,” she said.

Notwithstanding, Ricketts Walker declared that the JCA was still open for business, noting that the Ministry of Finance and Planning would be doing the necessary “environmental scan” to determine the most credible revenue streams and make adjustments accordingly.

paul.clarke@gleanerjm.com