The Jamaican government is vowing to cut red tape, trim its bureaucracy, and remove impediments to new businesses, in order to get more investment from Canada flowing into the Caribbean country.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller made that promise in a speech to a conference on doing business in Jamaica in Toronto Tuesday night, as part of a what was supposed to be a five-day state visit to Canada. However, her speech was delivered by her foreign affairs minister, as she had to fly back to Jamaica prematurely because tropical storm Sandy, which is expected to become a hurricane, is bearing down on the county.
Foreign affairs minister A.J. Nicholson read Ms. Simpson Miller’s remarks, which said that her government wants Jamaica to be “more than a great holiday getaway, but [also] a vibrant business destination” with a strong appetite for investment.
To make sure Jamaica is a more attractive for business investment, the government has created a national competitiveness council whose mandate is to improve the business environment. It has also has revamped business legislation to make it easier to get loans without having to use real estate as security, changed laws to allow electronic tax filing, and promised to amalgamate payroll taxes.
It will also try to speed up dispute resolution, set up a dedicated commercial court, and provide a tax free environment for companies who move their head offices there – providing they employ a significant number of Jamaicans.
Ms. Simpson Miller said she is committed to what she calls “joined-up” government, which is essentially a plan to streamline the bureaucracy and collaborate with business ventures – sometimes through public-private partnerships.
One of the key visions Ms. Simpson Miller has for Jamaica is to make it into one of the world’s key shipping and logistics hubs. Because it is so close to the Panama canal, which is being revamped to allow the passage of much larger ships, Jamaica has the potential to become a key transit point for ocean transport, she said.
The port of Kingston will be dredged and expanded to allow for larger ships to dock there, and the hope is that Jamaica can become an important hub for shipping and related services, and also a centre of manufacturing – making it a key link in the global supply chain.
The most significant Canadian investment in Jamaica at the moment is in the banking sector, as Bank of Nova Scotia, Royal Bank of Canada and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce have substantial operations there. Canada did about $388-million worth of trade with Jamaica in 2011.
Jamaican-Canadian business man Michael Lee-Chin, who has invested in Jamaica’s largest domestic bank, National Commercial Bank, told the conference that “doing business in Jamaica is not easy, but it is rewarding”.
He cited a litany of hurdles that business people have to deal with in Jamaica – including red tape and political interference, lack of equity capital, the high costs of electricity, and security issues – but said it is worth investing there because the rewards can be considerable.
He cited the example of a cable business he invested in with Canadian seafood entrepreneur John Risley, which brought dramatically cheaper telecommunications service to Jamaica, while generating substantial profits.
It managed to be a successful business while contributing to the island’s social development, which is the ideal combination for investors in Jamaica, he said.