Tue | Feb 20, 2018

Letter of the Day: Be bold, businesses

Published:Tuesday | March 29, 2016 | 12:00 AM


This is an open letter to GraceKennedy and LASCO Manufacturing.

On a recent visit to Trinidad, I had occasion to enter Massy Supermarket at the West Mall. I was disheartened. The megastore was filled to capacity with consumer brands manufactured by North American conglomerates.

I noticed a maximum of six cans of GraceKennedy products and a sprinkling of Caribbean Dreams teas manufactured by Jamaican Teas. I had no luck spotting a single LASCO Manufacturing product, nor was the Seprod brand or any other Jamaican manufactured product in sight. Needless to say, as a shareholder in these companies and a Jamaican who wants to see Jamaica become a regional economic powerhouse, I was disturbed.

I am not certain what to make of my observations. Is Jamaica failing to take full advantage of regional integration? Are we sufficiently strategic in our thinking? Are we aggressively seeking new opportunities in the global marketplace? If the Jamaican economy is to flourish, our businesses must become more strategic. Export growth must become a priority.

Trinidad's strategic vision

Let me take the liberty to point GraceKennedy, LASCO and other Jamaican companies to what may explain Trinidad's ascendancy. A few days on the island brought the message sharply home. It is not just the blessing of an abundant supply of crude oil and low production costs that explain that country's success; it is the strategic vision of the business community, complemented by government's facilitation of, and support for, business expansion outside of Trinidad and Tobago.

The most recent example is that country's current strategic focus on opportunities now presenting themselves in Cuba. I am not certain that both the Government of Jamaica and businesses have strategically made a collective decision to exploit these opportunities. Note these developments:

1. In The Trinidad Guardian Newspaper of March 25, 2016, Trade Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon is reported to have told the Penal/Debe Chamber of Commerce that her ministry's strategy is to expand market access within and outside CARICOM by focusing, in particular, on markets in Guyana, Suriname and Cuba. With respect to Cuba, the minister cited the government's plan to operationalise a CDN$10-million line of credit that will encourage local manufacturers to export more to Cuba by overcoming credit risks.

2. Trinidad and Tobago has also, very wisely, not overlooked Guyana. Guyana is fast becoming a place to do business in the Caribbean and its potential for growth is explosive. No wonder Massy Stores, again a Trinidadian conglomerate, has as recently as March 2016 opened a megastore on the East Bank, Demerara, in an up-and-coming neighbourhood.

3. Large American hotel chains such as Starwoods have recently announced plans to construct hotels in Cuba. There are reported shortages of chicken, bottled water and soft drinks in many stores in Cuba. The opportunities for Jamaica appear endless.

If Trinidad and Tobago claims an advantage of proximity to Cuba, Jamaica would appear to have an even greater advantage of proximity and longstanding close political ties with Cuba. It is now over to you, GraceKennedy, LASCO and Jamaica Broilers.

The Regionalist