Policies Supporting Economic Diversification Will Transform Jamaica’s Economy

Industry leaders from ICT, banking and trade, who delivered presentations at the 2021 staging of the Economic Growth Forum series of the PIOJ’s Growth Inducement Programme, presented arguments that sustainable economic growth has to be supported by policies that encourage implementation of advanced technologies, economic diversification and continued sound fiscal policies.

The forum was held across three virtual events from March to May under connected themes.

The first discussion, on March 25, focused on the role of disruptive technology in sustainable economic growth, and featured speakers from e-Gov Jamaica Limited; JAMPRO; and the Jamaica Technology and Digital Alliance (JTDA). JDTA was launched in 2021 as the association for professionals and agencies that are driven by computing services. It subsumed the former Jamaica Computer Society.

eGov Jamaica Chief Executive Officer (Acting), Anika Shuttleworth highlighted examples of how ICT is supporting improved interactions between public bodies and private enterprises. These include the suite of digital portals for engagement with agencies of the Ministry of Finance and the Public Service; Jamaica Eye, a security surveillance collaboration between the Ministry of National Security and members of the public; the JAMPRO doing business portals; and local government development submissions and approval tracking.

JAMPRO Vice President of Marketing, Gabriel Heron and the Deputy President for the JTDAN, Jason Scott together highlighted nine industries which can become more productive and economically impactful through using cutting edge technologies. These industries are: agriculture, agro-processing, manufacturing logistics/ distribution, renewable energy as well as services in the financial, outsourcing, health and legal sectors.

Mr Scott underscored that the first step will be to identify a specific, important problem to be solved and then either deploy the appropriate ICT tools or create new ones to resolve the issue.

The second forum was held on April 29 under the theme Diversification for Faster Recovery and Growth. Presenters were: President of JAMPRO, Diane Edwards; Project Executive, the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica’s (PSOJ) Access to Finance Facilitation Panel Programme (AFFP) lead Mark Tracey; and PIOJ GIP Private Sector Development Specialist, Kamesha Blake.

Ms Edwards brought into focus the diverse projects that JAMPRO was supporting through international marketing and by bringing public and private investment opportunities together.  These include: the Caymanas Special Economic Zone, Soapberry Wastewater Treatment, a medical school, and Bamboo Bio Product opportunities.

The PSOJ executive Mark Tracey noted that identifying world growth trends was an early step that Jamaican policymakers must make towards diversification of the economy, and that this diversification must be approached by aligning and coordinating critical areas. These critical areas include: full infrastructural ICT coverage in Jamaica and uptake by the society; viable commercial models for the new ways of doing business and support for the National Identification System (NIDS) as a step toward a digital society.

In launching the GIP’s working paper, “Emerging Industries in Jamaica,” PIOJ Private Sector Development Specialist, Kamesha Blake points were in alignment with the views of the PSOJ. The paper notes that a coordinating framework is needed to accelerate growth with greater emphasis on diversification into industries emerging internationally as growth leaders. Policies to support industries need to be supported by continuous research that will identify, prioritise and facilitate key growth industries.

The final discussion on May 27 featured economists speaking on the theme, “Towards Long-Term Resilience and Stable Growth.” The presenters were Governor of the Bank of Jamaica, Richard Byles, President of the Jamaica Bankers Association, Jerome Smalling and Executive Director of the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI), Damien King.

Among the policy and initiative implications, the experts supported diversification within the financial industry through product and service innovation, and also greater financial inclusion throughout the society. The financial inclusion solutions should also include improvements to the social safety net, major labour market reforms and other policy actions to support improved productivity.

Final remarks were made by Executive Director Caribbean Research Policy Institute, Damien King who indicated that despite the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has been the biggest natural disaster by far that has faced Jamaica, due to a stable economy and sound monetary policies, the country was prepared for and was already showing signs of economic recovery and, in fact, global disruptions have led to greater economic growth trends in many markets upon which Jamaica should prepare to capitalize.

In summary, Director of the PIOJ Growth Inducement Programme, Laura Levy, said that a key theme throughout the presentations was that “Jamaica must make deliberate efforts to increase digital literacy in the population which would allow the country to generate Jamaican innovators of the future.” Human capital and technological investments layered on to continued sound fiscal policy implementation and legislative updates will lead to a more competitive and diverse business environment in Jamaica and therefore an economy that is more resilient and robust.