Dominican Republic 2017 | DIPLOMACY | GUEST SPEAKER

TBY talks to The Most Honourable Andrew Holness, Prime Minister of Jamaica, on the need for greater engagement with the Dominican Republic, ways to boost tourism in both countries, and pressing issues for the region.

The Most Honourable Andrew Holness
The Most Honourable Andrew Holness has been the Prime Minister of Jamaica since March 2016. He also served as PM from October 2011 to January 2012. His political career began in 1997 when he became an MP for West Central St. Andrew and went on to serve as Opposition Spokesperson on Land and Development from 1999 to 2002. He became Minister of Education in 2007.

How has the CARICOM agreement helped to increase trade and commerce between Jamaica and the Dominican Republic and contributed of the development of the region in general?

CARICOM is an important arrangement. The Dominican Republic is not a part of CARICOM and its main form of interaction with CARICOM is via the trade agreement. We view it as extremely important and Jamaica supports CARICOM in this situation. We have been leading our trade negotiations between the region and Europe and it has been helpful, particularly in the transitioning away from sugar for many countries within the Caribbean region. It has also given us the opportunity to create dialog on a bilateral basis with the Dominican Republic. We see the Dominican Republic as part of a larger Caribbean market that includes Jamaica, Cuba, and Haiti. It is a significant market that does not operate in the sense of trade bloc but could potentially develop into a trade bloc with the loosening of trade and diplomatic issues between the US and Cuba. Jamaica has taken a positive view of the Dominican Republic as a potential trade partner. I will visit the Dominican Republic on an official visit sometime in April. I have made direct attempts to interact and interface with the government of the Dominican Republic and within CARICOM we are in agreement that there should be greater interface and engagement with them. There is quite a bit for us to share and develop.

What opportunities are there to increase trade and commerce activities between Jamaica and the Dominican Republic?

We have great interest from the Dominican Republic in investments in Jamaica and we welcome them. We will look at how we can cooperate in tourism and develop an agreement about multi-destination tourism. Tourism is the biggest driver of economic growth in this region; 29 million visitors came to the region last year and it is projected to grow significantly. We have not truly sat down as a community to figure out how we will grow the sector. We compete against each other but need to work together to grow the competitive field. That is an area where Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, two of the leading tourism areas in the Caribbean, could have a positive outcome if we work together. When I go to the Dominican Republic, this is one area that we will look at. The question is how we can attract more people to our country and have the region open up for them so that they have options. When tourists come to the region we want them to have an easy time shuttling between Jamaica and the Dominican Republic; the idea is to have a multi-destination strategy to market the Caribbean. We can have strong links with the Dominican Republic. There are other areas of cooperation that could work as well. Jamaica has a solid financial system that works hard to be compliant with all regulations. We have a stock market that has a deep history and we can offer financial products and business services to the Dominican Republic as its financial sector emerges. There are options there with strong cooperation. In the business process outsourcing sector, Jamaica has great potential there and it is an option for investment by people coming in from the Dominican Republic. There are great options between us for foreign investment.

What regional issues are the most pressing and should be pushed to solve?

Tourism is a major economic driver and every step must be taken to protect tourism. The Caribbean cannot be oblivious to the global threats. A part of dealing with the multi-destination strategy must be the security of the region. Many of the countries in the region suffer from high debt; Jamaica in particular has a large debt and fiscal constraints. There needs to be a rethinking of the way the international and multilateral community deals with middle-income countries that have high levels of debt.