JAMAICA’S ADVANTAGES

Jamaica 2018 | AGRIFOOD & INDUSTRY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Metry Seaga, Chairman of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association (JMA), on Jamaica's exporting strengths, building manufacturing capacity, and increasing financing for SMEs.

Metry Seaga
BIOGRAPHY
Metry Seaga is the President of the JMA, serving on the Board of Directors since 2008. He was also the youngest elected president of the Jamaica U-Drive Association. Seaga is the Managing Director of Jamaica Fibreglass Products Ltd. and has been an entrepreneur for over 27 years. After obtaining his bachelor’s degree in business at Florida International University (FIU) in 1984, he returned to Jamaica where he started a Rent-A-Car business and a travel agency, entered into motor vehicle sales, and finally established a manufacturing business.

Do Jamaican companies have a competitive advantage when it comes to exporting?

People often ask how we can compete against exporting countries such as China and other larger markets in the world. We cannot compete with everything, though we can compete with many things. I visited Singapore with the Jamaica Special Economic Zone Authority (JSEZA) team, as I am also the Chairman of JSEZA. Based on Jamaica's location in relation to the Americas, we play a role similar to Singapore's in Asia, which includes a great deal of transshipment, which significantly helps its economy. Singapore manages to manufacture with no natural resources whatsoever and with a market that is as small as ours. Jamaica does not have many competitive advantages, though we do have some. Firstly, our location is a key competitive advantage. Added to this are our infrastructure and trainable workforce, which speaks English. We have excellent electricity supply; it may not be at the best price yet, but it is improving and is certainly cheaper than some other regions. We have excellent telephone, internet, and data services, along with great weather. We are innovative people. Therefore, Jamaica has certain advantages, and we have to choose the products we will manufacture wisely.

What programs does JMA implement to help Jamaican companies with manufacturing?

In most cases, to be successful in manufacturing, a company first needs to be successful in its home country. Therefore, we need to build capacity in our manufacturing sector. JMA is working with the government to implement a new government procurement policy. In any economy, the government is the largest purchaser of goods and services. Currently, the least-cost method of procurement that we use in Jamaica does not serve us well. In many cases, it eliminates local companies as suppliers. We need the government to give local manufacturers a weighted advantage because public spending on procurement should not only be about the bottom line; it is also about building the local economy.

How does JMA work with the banking sector to improve access to commercial loans for SMEs?

When we survey our membership, especially SMEs, the three most important factors for them are financing, factory space, and procurement. JMA has put together two lines of financing, one of which is through EXIM Bank. This finances up to JMD1.5 million for micro-companies without any collateral, as this is sometimes where they have a problem. It is at 12%. We have also put a line together of up to JMD1 billion per company with the National Commercial Bank at 8%. The third initiative we are working on is writing to the Minister of Finance requesting a pool of funds to be made available to manufacturers through the National Development Bank of Jamaica at 5%. We hope to be successful with this in the coming months. Regarding the issue of factory space, there is a Factories Corporation of Jamaica (FCJ) that was established to deal with this. However, 85% of the FCJ's space is currently being utilized for distribution and retail. We have asked FCJ to provide us with a significant amount of space at a concessionary rate for a one-year period to help get SMEs off the ground. Then, as they build up their businesses, they will be able to pay the rent at normal rates. Our largest growing sector in JMA is the SME sector. We have over 120 new members, individuals who are mostly women and who are starting small factories out of their kitchens, living rooms, and garages. They have great ideas and innovative products where all the raw materials come from Jamaica. They seek to develop those enterprises. When they join JMA, they hope we can help them with these three areas—getting the government to buy their products, factory space, and finance.