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Careful calibration advised as Ja eyes 660m Latam market for exports

Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Senator Aubyn Hill says Jamaica must look beyond its own population of nearly three million for business and consider exports to Latin America, saying the island was second to last in Caricom in per capita GDP – a condition that must change, he asserted.

Speaking at the ‘Keys to Latam’ conference co-hosted on Thursday by Craig Powe of Adtelligence and the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica, Hill said the 20 agencies falling under his ministry that support exports were underutilised.

Traders “must look beyond the Jamaican market, and the natural place to go is Latam,” the minister said.

Panellist Jeffrey Hall, whose company has a footprint in the Latam market, warned that Latin America was a vast area requiring precision of focus and market research to efficiently deploy capital.

Jamaica, he said, won’t be competitive on cheap labour, cheap capital, or even scale.

“What we bring is our strength and services,” said Hall, who is CEO of Pan Jamaica Group Limited and Jamaica Producers Group Limited.

Governance and financial controls by capable management, he added, must be in place for operations outside of Jamaica.

Hill, who was the keynote speaker, argued that Jamaica had to “export a lot more to become wealthy. A concerted effort must be made to build trade relationships,” he declared.

“Exporters are not just GraceKennedy and Wisynco. We are proud of them, but we want our small companies to look at exports,” he said.

For PSOJ President Metry Seaga, the size and scope of the region, whose most current population estimate was just shy of 666 million people, was too attractive for Jamaicans not to exploit.

“Latin America represents a market of over 600 million with GDP that exceeds US$5 trillion. This is not just an audience; it is a symphony of possibilities,” he declared.

“In the past, the limits of our local market have restricted the scale of our ambitions.”

Comparatively, Jamaica’s exports of goods and services “totalled a modest US$5 million, making up just 28 per cent of our GDP,” Seaga added.

Describing this as far from good enough, he noted that while Jamaica has traditionally sold products such as alumina, bauxite, chemicals, beverages, and agricultural goods to Latin America, there is wide scope for the export of its talent and services.

“Our music, our cuisine, our clothing, our technology — they can all find homes across this diverse landscape,” he said.

“We are not just exporting products; we are exporting lifestyles, aspirations, and dreams. As the middle class [in Latin America] expands, so does its appetite for higher-quality goods and services, from farm-to-table organic foods to luxury vacations. I believe we not only have the capacity in this room to meet those demands, but to exceed them,” the PSOJ president said.

Caribbean interest in scooping up more business from Latin America extends beyond Jamaica.

The Caribbean Export Development Agency is pursuing initiatives that aim to increase the value of exports to Latam to US$1 billion, Seaga noted.

As for local support to businesses, he said the PSOJ provides market intelligence on business matchmaking and other services.

“One of the instruments in our toolkit is the special economic zone. These are catalysts for growth,” he said.

He also sees scope in Jamaica’s thrust towards becoming a digital economy.

“We could position ourselves as Silicon Valley of the Caribbean,” he said.

“The fact that COPA Airlines, a sponsor for today’s conference, is enhancing its cargo and passenger routes to Latin America should not be overlooked. Furthermore, we’re also backed by policy frameworks. Our existing free trade agreements with countries like Mexico, Chile, Colombia, and Peru can be our springboard into Latin America,” he said.

As for Hill, he wants businesses to become more aggressive in going after business.

“All Jamaicans, look at Latam; learn some Spanish or hire someone who speaks it. Go to Latam and excel,” he said.

The conference also featured Juan Alonso Checa Cores, who spoke about logistical solutions for product export; Stefan Richards of BCG Mexico on successful product export; Alejandro Agois, who dealt with strategies for optimising product packaging and positioning; and Nicholas Sutherland, Jampro’s manager for new market development, who facilitated a panel discussion on market entry strategies.

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