What were the main highlights of 2018 for EGC?
In 2016, when the council led by Michael Lee-Chin was established by Prime Minister Andrew Holness, the conversation in the country for the previous four years under the under administration was fiscal consolidation and getting our fiscal house in order to bring down debt. We had a debt of 147% of the GDP at the time, and it was a major concern. The people of Jamaica had to carry a significant burden of an additional JMD60 billion in new taxes over that four-year period. For the new government, the focus was maintaining fiscal consolidation to bring prosperity to the people, which has continued to date, where we identified what we call the enablers and the implementers. They represent the public and private sectors, respectively, and it is mandatory that they create synergies to contribute to growth.
What were the main macroeconomic trends that allowed the country to perform outstandingly?
We are on the road to recovery; however, there is still a great deal to accomplish. Our last quarter growth was 2.2%, debt reduction is going well, and interest rates have trended downward significantly. In addition, mortgages are down to single digits, and companies can borrow at much lower rates compared to two years ago. Inflation is also low. The government has stayed out of the debt market and has not been borrowing money. In previous years, when we were adding up that debt and pushing it up, the government was always borrowing money, squeezing out the private sector. Now, the private sector has a great deal of money in the local economy, and investors are coming in because interest rates are low, which encourages investment.
What is needed to achieve 5% growth in Jamaica?
One of the main inhibitors of growth is government red tape, which is why a major goal of the council is to cut it down. Legislation and new regulations are needed, though interference needs to be run underground between enablers. On the other hand, agriculture in 2Q2016 grew by 28% while economic growth was 2.4%, because of drought and then heavy rains that both affected the sector—and growth—in different ways. A key focus of EGC is working closely with the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries (MICAF) to ensure the sector is stable, and more land is given to people who want to grow crops, which is important to reduce imports. Also, we are working with MICAF to collaborate with Israel and Spain as well as to get private businesses to use the mother farm concept, where big investors put in investment and encourage local farmers to feed into that mother farm concept. We also work with academic institutions such as the University of the West Indies, Mico University, the Caribbean Maritime University, Utech, and others to ensure we have more skilled graduates, especially in science and engineering. The council is working closely with the Heart Institute to make sure economic growth happens more rapidly and in a sustained manner.
What are your goals for EGC in 2019?
We want to boost the amount of people focused on agriculture to increase annual growth, which is why we are looking at Israel and Spain in terms of efficiency. Furthermore, we are looking at agricultural storage as well to produce and deliver a more sustained set of products to the tourism industry and the local market. This is why we need to increase investment locally, which will translate to a reduction in imports. On the human capital side, we will continue to assist and encourage training institutions and the knowledge industry in the country to ramp itself up to train many more Jamaicans; as we hit 2.5, 3, or 4% growth, we will need many more trained Jamaicans. EGC is presently focusing its efforts on the knowledge industry to make sure more Jamaicans receive the training they need to take on higher-level jobs.