Daraine Luton, Senior Staff Reporter
THE GOVERNMENT has signalled that there will be a shift in the focus of foreign missions from external affairs to trade.
Speaking in the Senate last week, Opposition Spokesman on Foreign Affairs, Dr Christopher Tufton, asked portfolio Minister A.J. Nicholson whether the Government would consider using its overseas mission as part of a more aggressive approach to trade,
"The issue of the capacity of the personnel and the approach by the foreign ministry towards these missions may be necessary for some readjustment and some reorientation," Tufton said.
He argued for the development of terms of reference for missions to focus more on trade.
In response, Nicholson said Jamaica's foreign missions "cannot continue in the same way as before".
He said that "traditionally, external affairs has been the mantra on which these missions have been established. ... added to that external affairs foundation has been the marriage of some trade initiatives. It must be that in these missions, and even in the areas where there are consuls, the area of trade must be paramount".
In the meantime, addressing diplomats on Tuesday during a Diplomatic Week function, Nicholson said an analysis of the country's trade performance over the last 50 years was sobering.
"Overall, we have had persistent and growing trade deficits with imports rising at a phenomenal rate and exports lagging," the minister said.
The minister noted that services comprises 70 per cent of Jamaica's gross domestic product (GDP). He added that since the 1960s, Jamaica's main exportable service has been tourism, an industry susceptible to external shocks and this means that Jamaica's trade in services has not been diversified.
Difficult to compete
"Considerable work will, therefore, be required to diversify in order to make other service sectors competitive. The concern in many of our struggling service sectors is that it is very difficult to compete in the domestic market with larger international service suppliers and even more challenging in international markets," Nicholson said.
"However, this is a sector of potential which we recognise needs greater attention. We have to provide the means to build the capacity in order to successfully compete in the markets for services," the minister added.
Nicholson, asked by Tufton about the disbursement of grant funding from the European Union to Africa, Caribbean and Pacific countries for capacity building under the European Partnership Agreement (EPA), said the matter was a sore subject.
"Some of the funds have been used for technical purposes, as was promised ... they have assisted in the development but not enough has been done. The truth is, over time, accessing funds from that area has not been as forthcoming as we would hope," the minister said.
"Without the technical expertise, we in CARICOM, we cannot adhere to the conditions that are set down by the EPA."