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Charge ahead - Businessman urges fresh thinking to accelerate growth

Published:Saturday | August 17, 2019 | 12:18 AMChristopher Serju/Gleaner Writer
Jeffrey Hall
Jeffrey Hall

Jamaica Producers CEO Jeffrey Hall is urging policymakers to stop treating agriculture as a poverty-alleviation measure but as a sound business enterprise. Warning that geopolitics is dictating that there is a need to change the conversation around farming, he said the country will continue to suffer if this is not done.

“We believe that [farming] is a business and we believe that there are opportunities in bringing people who are studying at [the] tertiary level into our institution to have a conversation around avant garde level of quality control; around how to get a bank loan; how to write a business plan; around how to engage with hotels commercially; or how to write IT systems, to write a business plan to run a business effectively,” Hall said at Thursday’s signing ceremony of a memoranda of understanding between the Council of Community Colleges of Jamaica and three organisations. In addition to Jamaica Producers Group, the Bureau of Standards Jamaica as well as Grace and Staff Community Development Foundation signed MOUs at the Terra Nova All Suite Hotel in St Andrew.

“And so we believe that there is a basis for this kind of conversation and we are sure it also exists in tourism, the creative industries, and so we applaud this initiative and thank those who are gathered here and about to execute,” he said.

Hall warned that the temptation in development is to look at the success stories in the world, the United States being one among many, and try to copy what they have done.

“The truth is if that is our development philosophy and approach by definition, we’ll always be one step behind the persons we are following … . The challenge for us is to say how can we reinvent our philosophy. How can we look at what could be? How can we identify our current circumstances and say what is the potential? Now to do that, what we know for sure is that the world of today is radically different from the world that existed 30 years ago,” Hall said.

He pointed out that in 1992, when the Jamaica Producers Group came together, it was under the umbrella of the protectionist relationship with the United Kingdom, which offered preferential treatment for our sugar and banana industries. Now, these measures are no longer in place.

“Everybody touts the fact that last year, we had the fastest-growing stock exchange in the world. In 1993, we did as well, but by 1996, we had the highest interest rates in the history of Jamaica. The deposit rate was 20 per cent and the lending rate was 130 per cent. What that meant was that all of the decisions around production were short term and you couldn’t take a long-term decision around agriculture,” the businessman reminded his audience.

The Jamaica Producers Group CEO charged Jamaican businesses to position themselves to take advantage of opportunities arising from the trade war between the United States and China.

“... If there was some discussion that [the US is] not going to make this stuff (cell phones) in China, the likelihood of it being assembled in Nebraska or in Kansas is also going to be very challenging. What that means for me in the logistics business is a reasonable probability that Jamaica, with our labour force, we present ourselves as a sensible alternative.

“[I am] prepared to have conversations on reasonable terms with everybody and we have world-class transportation links already – not to mention a BPO industry that is already proving the point with telecommunications. Maybe there is a future for us in logistics, maybe there is a future for us in manufacturing,” Hall said.