'Give J'can farmers, manufacturers preference'
Managing Director of the SEPROD Group of Companies, Richard Pandohie, said Government must implement policies to ensure Jamaican manufacturers and farmers are given first preference in the purchase of goods by the tourism sector, if Jamaica is to truly feel that industry's economic impact.
According to Pandohie, Jamaica, unlike its other tourism-centred CARICOM counterparts, allows the importation of products which are already being produced by manufacturers or cultivated by farmers in the island, with very few restrictions.
He made his comments during an interview with The Sunday Gleaner at a gastronomy seminar at the Hilton Rose Hall in Montego Bay, St James, last Wednesday.
"One of the big gaps we have in Jamaica is that we 'operate in silos' - so the tourism minister is doing one thing, the industry minister is doing one thing, and they each have the best intentions at heart; but nobody is linking it together, so that is how we lose opportunities," Pandohie said.
"Of all our markets ... overseas, I am convinced that Jamaica has one of the most open policies around, to the detriment of our country. And I believe that we should have standards in place. There should be a first option to go to (purchase) local products and if we can't produce it, then you exercise your option to do otherwise."
He continued, "In the meantime, there should be a programme in place that over time these things happen. The tourism industry is a seasonal industry for the most part. If you look here today, it is the slow season. People are off work, people are on contracts, the quality jobs and the consistent jobs are going to come from manufacturers, from the farming community, et cetera, and we must force the industry to pull the rest of Jamaica along with it."
HEARTENED BY MINISTRY EFFORTS
Pandohie said, nevertheless, he was heartened that steps are being taken by the Ministry of Tourism to stem the inadequate linkage between the tourism sector and the rest of the economy, as over the years, there has been no concomitant increase in trade with the tourism sector, despite a significant rise in the number of visitors to the island.
"Regarding the linkages between the tourism sector and the manufacturing sector and farmers, what you are seeing is that the tourism sector has been growing. We have been getting 3.5 million people visiting us annually, going up to four million. But when you look at the import bill and the stuff they are importing, there is a huge opportunity for local companies to be able to supply a good portion of it that could be transformational for these companies, even in things like farm products and manufactured products," he said.
"I think in the past there has just been a complete separation of the tourist industry from the rest of the economy and I believe that there is a desire now for that link to happen because so much of the tourism dollar was seen to be staying outside of Jamaica and it was not flowing through to the economy."
Pandohie added: "The tourism sector was getting significant tax incentives, and for it to really make sense, the rest of the economy has to be a part of that equation, with the linkages committee pushing to say what are the opportunities out there; how can we match manufactured goods to importation. I think on our side as manufacturers, we have to make sure we are aggressive and scream that 'we can produce these products, quality products, competitively priced; so you need to buy from us'."