Trade barriers here to stay - PM
Prime Minister P. J. Patterson (left) presents Larry Watson, chief executive officer of Wray & Nephew, with an award in recognition of the company becoming the Jamaica Exporters' Association's (JEA) newest US$24 million member during the official launch of National Exporters' Week at the Hilton Kingston Hotel last night. - Michael Sloley /Freelance Photographer
JAMAICA SHOULD not be expected to open its markets to cheaper subsidised imports when developed countries were allowed to set up barriers which made it impossible to penetrate their markets, Prime Minister P.J. Patterson said yesterday.
Apparently responding to criticisms made just over a week ago by United States Ambassador to Jamaica, Sue Cobb, Mr. Patterson noted that in instituting certain tariffs on imported goods, Jamaica has invoked safeguard measures that were legitimately allowed under the agreement with the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Speaking at the official launch of National Export Week, organised by the Jamaica Exporters Association (JEA), at the Hilton Hotel, last night, the Prime Minister said that "when handling requirements and arbitrary standards are invoked by others, to impede or delay the entry of our products, we seek to complain only in vain."
Despite the hurdles, Mr. Patterson said, "We will not shift our resolve to build a competitive export sector or alter our focus in every negotiating to ensure that the interests of our farmers and manufacturers are taken into full account."
Just over a week ago, Ambassador Cobb criticised the Jamaican Government for imposing certain tariffs, including a 260 per cent duty on imported chicken and chicken parts that was implemented on June 3. Jamaica has also proposed imposing similar duties on imported vegetables, but that was placed on hold because of the recent damage caused by flood rains to the island's agricultural sector.
The Prime Minister, without referring directly to Ambassador Cobb's criticisms, said that despite the virtues of globalisation and liberalisation, there was ample evidence that the global playing field remained uneven.
"Developing countries, and moreso small economies such as ours, continue to be at a considerable disadvantage," he said. "Even a 'kinder, gentler form of protectionism' will damage our prospects for growth and send the wrong signals as administrators like mine seek to build support for market-oriented reforms," he added.
However, "We cannot be expected to open our markets for cheaper subsidised imports when any developed country is allowed to set up barriers which make it impossible for us to penetrate their markets," he said.
The Prime Minister also announced that he would be recommending for consideration the establishment of a venture capital fund to assist small and medium-sized businesses that were facing hardships.
He was responding to a call made earlier by Beverly Lopez, president of JEA, who said such a funding would help to break the cycle of many companies forced to fold since the 1990s "and which continues, as indicated in discussions, at the firm level."
Mrs. Lopez, who was also speaking at last night's function, said "the JEA believes that a properly structured venture capital fund is needed to help these highly leveraged businesses."
While "the macro-economic variables are good at the present, with low inflation, declining interest rates and a relatively stable exchange rate," she said, JEA members were optimistic that the added benefit of a venture capital fund "would make a world of difference."
Although he did not elaborate, the Prime Minister said that in considering the setting up of such a fund, a determination would be made whether it should be established as a special window or under an existing facility.
Mr. Patterson also said that in view of the downward movement in interest rates and a reduction in the cash reserve ratio to an all-time low of nine per cent, "once again, I urge the commercial banks to match the efforts being taken by the Government to take them to levels which will facilitate an acceleration of productive activity and entrepreneurial investment."
National Export Week, which continues until Friday, June 14, is being held under the theme, 'Meeting the global challenge with innovative products and services'.