Jamaica Woos Chinese, U.S. Investors to Break Out of Low Growth

(Bloomberg) -- Jamaica plans to build new Chinese-backed highway projects and create a business environment attractive to U.S. investors to break out of decades of weak growth, Prime Minister Andrew Holness said.

“China is critical,” Holness said Thursday, in an interview on Bloomberg TV. “But we also want more U.S. investment, and we are making an effort to make our business environment attractive enough for U.S. investors to come and participate in our economy.”

Jamaica’s economy has stagnated in recent decades, even as neighbors such as Panama and the Dominican Republic have notched up some of the fastest growth rates in the world. The Caribbean island has been held back by a “very high debt overhang”, and a business environment that wasn’t sufficiently friendly to investors, Holness said.

“We have now managed to get our fiscal house in order, and now we’re moving into another phase which is to get the public sector efficient to create a business environment that is supportive of investment,” Holness said.

Debt is projected to fall to 123 percent of GDP this year from 141 percent five years ago, according to the International Monetary Fund. The economy will grow 2.2 percent this year, according to an April forecast from the IMF. That would would be the fastest pace in a decade, but still lags the projected expansions of 5.4 percent for the Dominican Republic and 6.1 percent for Panama.

Jamaica will make its laws and processes, “more aligned to American investors’ needs”, Holness said. The country will allow the Chinese to import some labor for construction of more roads, and possibly a port, but the majority of the work must be done by local people, he said.

The country’s proximity to the Panama canal means it can benefit from providing logistics services, he said.

“All the ships heading through the Panama canal have to pass Jamaica first, so the logistics and shipping present itself naturally as areas of investment,” he said. “We’re English-speaking and we’re an hour and a half away from Miami so Jamaica can do many services that support industry and business in the U.S. ”