EXPANDING FRONTIERS

Jamaica 2019 | DIPLOMACY | FOCUS: FOREIGN INVESTMENT

Reaching out to regional economic powers, Jamaica is boosting its commercial ties with Mexico and the Dominican Republic in a number of key sectors, most importantly tourism, energy, and mining.

Jamaica's relative diminutiveness is often buffeted by two things: its large and dynamic diaspora scattered across North America and the UK, and its proximity to the US. Yet as many have noted, when the latter sneezes, Jamaica catches more than a cold, and relying on one market—chiefly for tourism but also FDI—is never a good long-term strategy. As such, Jamaica has been cultivating ties with economic powers closer to home, namely Mexico and the Dominican Republic, to bolster its sources of foreign investment and ramp up regional commerce.

Though FDI figures for Jamaica are conflicting—the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean (ECLAC) stated total FDI was down 17.8% in 2017 to USD649 million, while the US State Department declared it was up to USD846 million that same year—one thing is clear: compared to less than a decade ago, when total FDI was scarcely over USD200 million in 2011 and Jamaica ranked 90th in the World Bank's Doing Business indicators (it has since moved up 20 places to 70th), the overall climate has drastically improved.

Mexico, for one, has taken notice. With increasing investments in tourism—Karisma Hotel and Resorts and Moon Palace are but two recent investments in Jamaica—and mining, such as Cemex Jamaica, a Mexican subsidiary producing concrete, quicklime, and aluminum—Mexican investors are there for the long run. Hosting a Mexican trade delegation in March 2018, Jampro, Jamaica's trade and investment promotion agency, welcomed Mexican foreign minister Luis Videgaray, who expressed his country's keen interest in expanding its investments in medical tourism, agribusiness, energy, and manufacturing.
Already with USD500 million invested in the country, Mexican firms such as MBJ, which operates the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, and Cemex, which recently bought Carib Cement, expressed their interest in bolstering their holdings in mining and tourism in particular, sectors that command 29% and 25% of all FDI in Jamaica. Equally important, Mexican ambassador Juan González Mijares told reporters in May 2018 that, "The crime situation is no deterrent to further investment in Jamaica," in response to an alarming spike in murder and other violent crimes in Jamaica in 2017.

Citing the countries' urgent need to develop mutual strategies on human development and security, migration, and climate change, Mexican foreign minister Videgaray also stressed his wish in March that Mexican energy firms supply oil to Jamaica and help develop its own energy resources. He also added that Mexico was signing an MoU to provide technical support to Jamaica's oil refinery, Petrojam. Jointly owned by a unit of Venezuelan national oil company, PDVSA, it is part of a larger effort by the US and Mexican diplomatic corps to wean Caribbean nations off Venezuelan black gold and strip Caracas of the diplomatic weight its largesse has bought at the Organization of American States (OAS).

And Mexico is hardly alone. As the second largest country in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic also wants in on the action. Traveling to Kingston in November 2017, Dominican President Daniel Medina met with his counterpart, Prime Minister Andrew Holness, to pledge both countries toward closer bilateral ties on a variety of issues, such as developing more sustainable, multi-destination tourism between the two countries through a new air services agreement, for starters. Apart from also signing an MoU to create a commission enabling broader cooperation in sport, culture, and education, both leaders also stressed the Caribbean's need to speak as one single voice on the international diplomatic stage, particularly when it comes to climate change, a threat that looms much larger for their region than most.