REACHING MARKETS

Jamaica 2019 | MANUFACTURING | INTERVIEW

Exploiting Jamaica's niche market provides far more opportunities than challenges.

Metry Seaga
BIOGRAPHY
Metry Seaga is the President of the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA), 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 from Florida International University (FIU) in 1984, he returned to Jamaica, where he started a car rental business, a travel agency, entered into motor vehicle sales, and finally established a manufacturing business.

What were the highlights of 2018?

2018 saw growth, and we are pleased to have reached markets such as China. As local manufacturers, we have to learn to compete against countries with significant mass and identify ways to add value and then export them. There are three things in particular that would move the needle significantly. One is factory space for SMEs, and we have been working on a project with the government and the Factories Corporation of Jamaica to identify purpose-built factory space for small businesses at concessionary rates to start moving them out of the informal sector. The second thing the industry needs is low-cost financing. In fact, the tourism and BPO sectors have both been able to receive financing as low as 4% from the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) and the National Export-Import Bank of Jamaica (EXIM Bank), though SME manufacturers still operate with financing as high as 18-20%. The third factor that would help build scale in medium-sized manufacturing companies is a change in the country's procurement policy. If these three steps are taken, manufacturing will continue to grow at a faster pace and contribute more to GDP. Peer-tested studies conducted by the University of the West Indies by Dr. William Lawrence have shown that every percentage point of movement in manufacturing GDP has a 40% correlation to national GDP.

What does the merger of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association and Jamaica Exporters' Association signify?

The two associations were lobbying for many of the same things to the same people. We had two different voices but wanted to reach the same place. Now, the merged Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association has come together with one voice and platform. This is beneficial to our members, as they only have to pay one set of dues. Furthermore, we do not need to duplicate our accounting, marketing, and administrative efforts. We give our members better value for money and will achieve more. Now we are looking at new markets where we can help people enter. We hope the days of exporting raw produce, such as bauxite, bananas, and sugar, are over; we seek to add as much value as possible here and develop niche markets around the world for our high-quality products.

Which markets in particular do you seek to expand into?

We take our cues from our membership and see where they want to go. For example, I attended the inaugural China International Import Exhibition with two ministers and a delegation from Jamaica where we displayed our coffees, rums, sauces, and various other products. We see a great opportunity to enter markets like China. In fact, we have started to export frozen lobsters to China and are working closely with the embassy on the possibility of exporting live ones. In addition, we had meetings there with companies that want to purchase our coffee. We currently have members that export as far as Africa, and there are certain markets we want to break into, such as Cuba and other neighbors.

How will Jamaica's Logistics Hub Master Plan allow businesses to fully exploit the country's strategic location?

Jamaica has never truly utilized its best asset: its location in the Americas. We have 650 million people on our doorstep to the south and 450 million to the north who want products from around the world. It would be easy for a company in, say China, to send thousands of containers to Jamaica for storage and value addition, and we can easily send these products on to the US by ship or plane in the space of two hours. Our infrastructure is exceptionally here; we have excellent telecommunications, storage, technology, and air transport links, speak English, and have a first-world economy. We have all the factors to have an economy centered around logistics, and if we do not do so, it is at our own peril.