Interview by Kanchi Batra
How does it feel being the first resident High Commissioner of Jamaica to India? What vision do you hold and co-operation do you seek to strengthen ties with India?
It is a tremendous honour to represent Jamaica in this incredible country of India. Jamaica has the deepest respect for India’s ancient contributions to civilization and humanity. We have the highest regard for India’s prominent voice in the international arena, its strong tradition of non-interference, respect for sovereignty and consistent advocacy on behalf of the interests of the Global South. Over the years and especially now, India has proven to be a reliable and important development partner and invaluable friend to Jamaica. We share the common vision that the world is indeed one family. Further strengthening of relations with India is a strategic priority which contemplates greater cooperation in science, education, health, and sport in addition to increased trade and investment ties with India. We hope to add to the growing sophisticated and discerning Indian market by introducing uniquely Jamaican high-end luxury commodities such as Blue Mountain Coffee, premium Jamaican Rum, Jerk seasoning & condiments as well as nutraceutical and lifestyle products. We also intend to generate awareness of Jamaica’s solid value proposition as a destination for Indian investment in infrastructure, technology & digital services, alternative energy, tourism, mining, and creative industries. All while promoting a high level of cultural exchanges in art, dance, film, and music. I envisage strengthened mutually beneficial bi-lateral relations between our nations, enhanced support at the multi-lateral level and Jamaica becoming a gateway/hub for Indian innovation in the Region.
Jamaica has started its journey in the 60th year of Independence. Tell us about the significance of Independence Day to the people of Jamaica.
Jamaica is a land of superlatives, astoundingly so when you consider our relatively small size and resources. Reflecting on our journey thus far we are filled with a sense of pride and purpose. In our legacy of sporting excellence, only one other country has won more medals in track and field with Jamaica winning a third of all the possible medals in the sprint events at the Olympics. From medicine to music, from human rights advocacy to environmental stewardship, Jamaicans have left an indelible mark on the scroll of positive global impact. Our indomitable spirit, our “can do” approach and our eternal optimism have brought us to where we are today and buttresses for the challenges that lie ahead we recognize that many more challenges lie ahead. Independence Day reminds us of the tremendous sacrifices made in our collective struggle for justice and self-determination and that together we overcome any and everything.
Could you put Jamaica’s growth trajectory during the past six decades into perspective?
In the past 6 decades, Jamaica has experienced profound changes, both locally and globally. We have witnessed a transition from being a colonial plantation economy exporting sugar, bananas, coffee and cocoa, to being a world-leading exporter of bauxite at one stage, to becoming a world-leading tourism destination and now services-based economy. At one stage our Debt to GDP ratio was over 200%. Throughout we remained a stable democracy committed to the rule of law, continually striving for improvement. Recent fiscal reforms and targeted programmes have seen an unprecedented turn-around of our economy. In the years preceding the global COVID-19 pandemic Jamaica’s performance was again superlative on the world stage, reducing its debt/GDP ratio to below 100%, claiming the number one spot in Stock Market Performance we experienced 6 years of consecutive GDP growth, posted lowest inflation, lowest unemployment, highest tourism arrivals and earnings. We also achieved our lowest unemployment and highest literacy rates in decades. Today, Jamaica has a highly developed air, sea and road infrastructure bolstered by first-class digital connectivity and skilled human resources. Interestingly, it was Jamaica, not North America that was the commercial centre of the Western Hemisphere back in the 17th Century. This is evidenced by the wealth and activity in and around Port Royal just across the harbor from Kingston. Now, 400 years later, without the buccaneers and likes of Henry Morgan, Jamaica is again emerging as the centerpiece of the region.
Jamaica is renowned for being an island paradise. What’s the situation of COVID-19 in Jamaica now? Is the country ready to start the opening of tourism again?
Like everywhere else on the planet, Jamaica has been impacted by COVID, however, we were among the first to open up for tourism in the summer of 2020. Initially in our carefully created “resilient corridors” in resort areas along the North Coast. Currently, we are experiencing a “faster-than-expected tourism recovery” and have now expanded re-opening. Hotels, resorts and cottages that are outside of the Resilient Corridors are now allowed to receive guests, once they receive their Jamaica Tourist Board license, along with a Covid compliance certificate and meet health and safety protocols.
The health and safety of our visitors remain a top priority for Jamaica. We have put in place the industry-leading, highly successful and effective ‘Jamaica CARES’ program with protocols that are best in class. These updated measures are an acknowledgment that what we have been doing is working thus far, and it is now more important than ever that we continue to work together to navigate this new normal.
What types of initiatives are you planning to build with India when this crisis is over? How do you wish to promote Jamaica’s cultural heritage in India?
Whilst much is known about our sports celebrities and some of our musicians there is still much awareness to be generated about Jamaica both in terms of our strategic importance as an investment destination as well as our allure as a place to visit. One priority will be to foster meaningful B2B exchanges with a series of sector-targeted inward and outward missions to and from Jamaica. We will also be leveraging the celebrity of our leading sport and cultural icons to introduce our unique array of high-end lifestyle products staging culinary exposes and tastings. You can also expect to see some very exciting initiatives around travel where you will have opportunities to actually travel to Jamaica and experience “the trip of a lifetime” specially curated with the JTB in partnership with key hotels, airlines and attractions. There will be a thrust facilitating major cultural exchanges in literature, dance, music, art, theatre and film. We plan to have electrifying concerts staged throughout key cities in India featuring our top billing artists and musical icons such as Sean Paul, Shaggy, Chronixx, Koffee, Tony Rebel, Stephen Marley, Junior Gong, Luciano, Beres Hammond to list but a few. Don’t be surprised if you start to see major innovation on the Bollywood dance scene as mainstream Jamaican Dancehall moves are introduced in dazzling fashion. In this connection we would go a step further and have Bollywood actually come to Jamaica to shoot feature films, leveraging our amazing land and seascapes as well our iconic cultural attributes. We also hope to have strong academic exchanges between our respective universities and tertiary institutions at various levels. On the sports front, we hope to have competition in football and cricket and we have already opened our doors to Indian athletes desirous of coming to the sprint factory of the world to improve their technique in running and other field events. Already India is witnessing major improvement in their Olympic performance and no doubt with assistance from Jamaica you will see even better results in the next Olympics and international competition.