EDITORIAL - The PM's visit to China, and economic growth

Published: Tuesday | August 20, 2013 Comments 0

We hope Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has great success on her trip to China but are surprised at the relative absence of heft in the PM's ministerial support cast.

There is no attempt here to belittle the capacities of the foreign minister, A.J. Nicholson, and Robert Pickersgill, chairman of the governing People's National Party, who also has the portfolio for water and the environment in Mrs Simpson Miller's Cabinet. Rather, our expectation is that any visit by a Jamaican leader at this time would have practical economic and specific business-related outcomes as its priority.

The point is that the Jamaican economy is desperately in need of growth. But given its deficit-containing agreement with the International Monetary Fund, the Government does not have the wherewithal to drive the spending to generate growth in output.

A shortage of capital and risk aversion induced by long addiction to investment in government bonds means that the private sector cannot adequately fill the gap. This is shown in the projection of economic stagnation this fiscal year and official unemployment which recently rocketed past 16 per cent.

Further, there are not too many countries whose investors are knocking down Jamaica's doors to pump capital into its economy. China is one of few showing interest.

China Harbour Engineering Company is spending US$600 million to complete a toll highway between the island's north and south shores and is talking about a US$1.5-billion investment for a new port and industrial facility. A Chinese firm bought the Government's sugar factories and the other is believed to be among the bidders for state-owned trans-shipment facility at the Kingston Harbour.

All these are good. But Jamaica should be looking for far more.

It is against this backdrop that Mrs Simpson Miller needs to leverage the economic possibilities of this visit - as she should do for any trip abroad. We, of course, do not doubt that there will be a declared, a genuinely meant, commitment to Jamaica-China economic relations when Mrs Simpson Miller meets with China's party leader and president, Xi Jinping.

President Xi previously visited Jamaica in 2009 before he had the top job. He also knows Mrs Simpson Miller from the China-Caribbean Economic Forum in Trinidad and Tobago in June.

While they lay out the framework, leaders are not expected to scope the nitty-gritty of policies or projects. That is left to their ministers and technocrats.

URGENCY

Given Jamaica's circumstance, there is urgency to this. That is why we would have preferred to see the key economic ministries represented in the prime minister's party, plus a robust mission from the private sector. In other words, on a trip such as this, our hope would be that deals that are already on the table would advance and be firmly secured and new ones cut. You need people on the spot who can talk specifics and take action.

The China mission and Jamaica's search for investment reinforce this newspaper's belief in the need for an economic/business ministry, separate from that for finance, with the appropriate muscle and the task of coordinating and driving the Government's investment and growth agenda. That would include unravelling red tape and helping to create an entrepreneurial state.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.

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