Thu | Aug 17, 2017

Bank on agriculture, tourism to spur growth

Published:Monday | September 19, 2016 | 9:02 PMMcPherse Thompson

With the Jamaican economy perennially experiencing anaemic growth, President and Chief Executive Officer of Sagicor Group Jamaica, Richard Byles is unwavering in his suggestion that agriculture and tourism are among the top two sectors that can provide real opportunities for economic expansion.

He produced data which show that currently, trading contributes the most to the Jamaican economy, at 17 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

At the same time manufacturing, the fifth largest sector, contributes under 10 per cent of GDP; tourism, the sixth largest, adds just six per cent, and agriculture, the seventh largest, contributes under seven per cent of GDP.

Byles, addressing a press conference in New Kingston recently, asked to what extent the Government was looking to those areas to stimulate economic growth, said: "I think it must be a logical conclusion from the Economic Growth Council that these sectors of the economy have real opportunities for expansion."

However, "the who is going to do it? The how? What is needed to stimulate it? Those are all more intricate questions that need to be answered by the EGC."

Prime Minister Andrew Holness earlier this year appointed the council to consult widely and to advise Cabinet on a collection of broad platform policies and reforms to facilitate economic growth.

According to Byles, "to get some other sector to grow, to grow the economy, you have to really steam it up. And agriculture, which is just short of seven per cent (of GDP), is an opportunity: it employs people, it produces goods that save us foreign exchange or may even earn us foreign exchange."

While noting that "agriculture is a tremendous opportunity for Jamaica" in that it also "has a lot of growth potential in respect of import substitution", Byles stressed that it has to be done in a modern, scientific, technologically-driven way.

"It can't be that we are depending on rainfall and if rainfall don't come it's calamity, and everything mash up, man lose his money and bank lose money and GDP drop on its face again. That can't work," he added.

Byles suggested that "tourism is another of those sectors that can offer real growth for us."

Noting that the Jamaican economy is primarily a producer of services that is consumed locally, he said a lot of those services are not tradable globally.

"Only tourism that I've called as a service that is tradable, meaning, that you can earn foreign exchange from it," he emphasised.

Byles, in suggesting that the Government identify specific sectors which can spur growth, gave the thumbs down to trading, the number one contributor to Jamaica's GDP at present.

"If you say retail trading, I'd say no because that depends a lot on us having purchasing power around this table and the ordinary Jamaican having purchasing power," he said. "That's pretty limited, though it is the largest part of the economy."

Last week, the Economic Growth Council presented a report on its recommendations to Cabinet, outlining a set of growth initiatives along with policy proposals to achieve higher growth.

In a statement, the Council said the report draws from inputs gained from more than 80 consultative meetings held with stakeholders over the past four months. The groups included various business groups, the confederation of trade unions, the parliamentary opposition, public sector agencies, ministries of government, members of academia, the media, diplomatic missions, and multilateral development agencies, among other stakeholders.

However, no specifics were included in the statement and the closet any of its eight growth initiatives comes to incorporating agriculture and tourism is improving access to finance, which it said expands economic opportunity and improve business competition.

Executive director of the Economic Growth Council Secretariat, Maureen Denton told The Gleaner that in coming up with the growth initiatives, the Council did not take a sector by sector approach, but will strategically support ministries and agencies in their own efforts to stimulate growth.

mcpherse.thompson@gleanerjm.com