Reforms and New Investment Will Strengthen Jamaican Economy, Ambassador Tells Qorvis Focus Washington

Aug 09, 2013, 12:16 ET from Qorvis Communications

IMF Facility to Provide Needed Imports and Support Social Safety Net

WASHINGTON, Aug. 9, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Jamaican government has launched an ambitious program of economic structural reform aimed at increasing production, employment and foreign investment and ensuring political and social stability, Jamaican Ambassador Stephen Vasciannie told Qorvis Focus Washington.

Jamaica recently received an IMF loan of $932 million, funds that "are being used for balance of payments support and also to shore up the Jamaican dollar," the ambassador told interviewer Chuck Conconi.

"The loans have been helpful to bring stability, but now we are looking towards enhancing production," he said.

View the full interview here:

Increasing Production and Foreign Investment
"Our economic problems stem largely from the fact that there is a high unemployment rate and from the fact also that the country tends to consume more than it produces, so what we are trying to do in government is raise the employment level and also open up the country to foreign investment so that we can raise production and productivity."

Ambassador Vasciannie pointed to areas Jamaica is working to develop, including "the Logistics Hub Project," which stands to take advantage of the expansion of the nearby Panama Canal by allowing "ships coming through the Panama Canal [to] be able to use Jamaica as a significant transshipment port."

The addition of a new airport, also to facilitate transshipment, and the construction of a dry-dock harbor to repair ships are also options the government is exploring under the project.

Jamaica is already experiencing success in attracting foreign investment from a number of countries. "For instance, a number of Spanish hotels that have set up chains on the north coast to facilitate tourism," the ambassador explained. Beyond tourism, Ambassador Vasciannie points out that Jamaica has "had Chinese investment in infrastructure and we have had United States investment in telecommunications."

Social and Political Stability
The IMF funds will also help Jamaica deal with the problem of crime and poverty.

"The government will be able to spend money to ensure that there is a social safety net," Ambassador Vasciannie said. "Very few people will fall below that safety net; it's a way of keeping the democracy alive."

Despite its social problems, Jamaica has been a stable democracy since it achieved its independence from Britain in 1958.

"We have had a long history of social challenges but at the same time, the democracy has sought to embrace everyone so that people don't feel alienated," the ambassador said. "Even though times are hard, the people very often live in hope."

Jamaica has a population of about 2.6 million, and about that same number live outside the country. This huge diaspora has been an important economic and social factor for the country. Emigration, particularly to the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada, has been a safety valve, releasing pressure on the Jamaican economy to provide jobs. But many of those émigrés are returning with money to invest.

"Jamaica benefits from the fact that there are so many of our nationals in the diaspora because they send money home in the form of remittances, and some also take part in the investment projects," he explained. "As a matter of fact, over the last month or so, there was a Diaspora Conference, which attracted at least 600 Jamaicans living overseas, and many of them came to talk business opportunities."

Are visitors who never leave Jamaica's large resorts missing something? Without a doubt, Ambassador Vasciannie believes.

"Jamaica is a place of remarkable cultural diversity," he said. "We will surprise you with Shakespeare, we will give you the best beaches in the world, and we will give you the most exciting mountains in the world. As we say, once you go, you know."

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