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Visit to Jamaica

3rd February 2011 by Andrew Needs, Ottawa | No Comments

Andrew Needs and Prime Minister Bruce Golding at Jamaica House

Minister of National Security Senator the Honorable Dwight Nelson and Andrew Needs

Last week I was in Kingston, the capital of Jamaica to present my credentials. Flying out of Ottawa in temperatures of minus 25 Celsius (and it got colder while I was away), arriving to plus 28 Celsius. It is this contrast that leads many North Americans to travel south to the Caribbean at this time of the year.

The Jamaican Government was a superb host. I called on both the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs early on during my visit and had opportunities to speak with them again at various events through the week. Jamaica is a country with which New Zealand has very good relations. Our leaders see each other at Commonwealth meetings and in the United Nations context, usually at the General Assembly in New York.

While Jamaica, and the Caribbean more generally, is a long way from New Zealand, the challenges faced by these small (and some not so small) islands are similar in many respects to the islands of the Pacific, with whom New Zealand has deep ties. Jamaica has a vibrant tourism industry, a variety of agricultural products and some mining. Remittances from the many Jamaicans living overseas are also important to the economy as in so many of the Pacific Islands. Global challenges such as extreme weather events, climate change and attendant sea level rise are as real for much of the Caribbean as it is for the low lying states of the Pacific.

The current government is focussed on stabilising the economic situation, particularly dealing with the issue of high debt. The government has restructured the debt in a bid to both make it more manageable and to increase the incentive for Jamaicans to invest in productive activity. At the same time the government is tackling ongoing security and crime challenges, which raises the premium for international companies doing business in Jamaica. This ambitious agenda of course comes at a time when Jamaica’s key markets (North America and the UK) are still grappling with the effects of the world wide economic downturn. This combined economic and social challenge was the overwhelming focus of the meetings and presentations I attended during the course of the week, so much of it resonating with my experiences from two previous assignments in the Cook Islands and Fiji.

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