There's no denying that the decline in Jamaica's ranking in the 2011 Global Competitiveness Report (GCR) has given pause to consider the negative global perception of Jamaica and the potential impact on business and investor confidence.
Notwithstanding, investor interest in Jamaica remains robust, a fact more recently borne out by the overwhelming response of prospective Chinese investors to opportunities in Jamaica at the just concluded China-Caribbean Economic Forum in Port of Spain, and the significant visit of the chairman and president of the China EXIM Bank to the island.
The GCR is one of several annual reports released by multilateral organisations that seek to rank countries based on predetermined criteria.
The report is primarily perception driven, with the majority of the data points in the report emerging from the globally administered executive opinion survey. Jamaica's 2011 ranking is therefore in large part, a function of the perceptions of the 54 Jamaican business executives that participated in the survey.
It places emphasis on comparative analysis and not on individual country improvements. It therefore does not recognise areas of significant improvements, which are being achieved by Jamaica.
The Government is committed to reversing negative perceptions of Jamaica as a business-friendly destination by exacting real and lasting impact on the national business environment in the drive for global competitiveness.
In this regard, the 2011 GCR ought not to be received as 'depressing reading', rather the document is best used as a compelling stimulant to motivate enhanced partnerships between the private and public sectors for greater levels of productivity.
The 2011 Global Competitiveness Report best serves as an inflection point, from which to plot an upward trajectory to advance Jamaica's position in the rankings. As a ministry, we will bring the required analysis and actions in partnership with the wider public service and the private sector to address the complex issues that bedevil our national productivity and global competitiveness.
This is not gainsaying. We are all familiar with the historical challenges.
Our public narrative has been replete with the analysis and the spirited discourse, both constructive and unhelpful. Yet, the acknowledged reality is that Jamaican businesses have for several decades been incentivised to shy away from risk-taking and to rely on guaranteed returns from investments in government paper.
This stands in stark contrast to an ethos, where risk-taking undertaken in a business-friendly environment where production is incentivised, and investor/business confidence is high.
We recognise that nothing can be gained by being dismissive of the findings of the GCR, rather our approach is to learn from the negatives and to capitalise on the advances we are making in growing the economy. Already, we are seeing some palpable developments. For starters:
It is getting easier to pay our taxes: there has been a reduction in the number of tax payments from 72 to 36 with more to come, as a result of the amalgamation of payroll taxes.
Reforms in customs are making life easier for our exporters: Improvements such as the Export One Stop Shop Facility is simplifying inspection and document processing at the ports.
Starting a business in Jamaica is getting easier: the plans to institute a super form to consolidate the numerous application forms and declarations into one standardised application form for business registration is well under way.
Jamaica's macroeconomic environment is the best it has been in several decades.
The Jamaican economy grew by 1.5 per cent for the April to June 2011 period, the second consecutive quarter of growth, while inflationary pressures have largely been kept in check.
Interest rates which served as a significant disincentive for production and investment are currently at their lowest levels since the mid-1970s.
Homeowners are now enjoying single-digit mortgage rates.
And crime has declined nearly 40 per cent between January and June 2011 over the similar period last year.
In the face of these positive developments, the Global Compe-titiveness Report 2011 is in effect a perception survey; nonetheless, we recognise that perceptions oftentimes frame and inform reality.
The clear mission is to close the global perception gap with the substance of increased local direct investments.
It is said that one of the first indicators checked by the discerning foreign investor when considering investment in a country is the level of economic activity by local investors. It is with this in mind that Jampro and other facilitation agencies in the ministry have been charged to bring renewed focus on local investments and to encourage and support existing investors to expand, reinvest and increase employment.
This is but one of a number of strategies that it is already in train to challenge and change negative perceptions of our competitiveness and our will as a country to be globally competitive.
Investor confidence cannot be built overnight. Systemic bureaucratic red tape isn't defeated in a day. Global competitiveness, perceived or practically achieved, is a moving target. The one constant is the excellence that resides within the Jamaican productive sector and a dynamic business support network.
The Government's role in this regard is to unlock and cultivate this excellence as expressed in high levels of investments, foreign and domestic, resulting in strong business linkages, robust economic activity, high levels of production and a thriving export trade. Partnership will be the master key to ignite the flame of our collective will for our success.
Our future is in our hands. Our best days are ahead of us.
Dr Christopher Tufton is minister of industry, investment and commerce. Send feedback to: firstname.lastname@example.org.