DOWN FOR BUSINESS: Aloun Ndombet Assamba (bottom, centre left) with Arnaldo Brown (bottom, centre right)
JAMAICA IS ‘open for business’ and remains a nation on a mission to develop strong trade links with the millions of people in its diaspora.
This was the message from Arnaldo Brown, Jamaica’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade as he wound up a whistle-stop tour of the UK by talking to members of Birmingham’s Jamaican Diaspora.
The MP for East Central and St Catherine said this year’s fifth biennial Jamaica Diaspora Conference being held in Montego Bay between June 16 and 19, would be a watershed – a landmark conference to showcase the many investment opportunities.
And he urged all those in the diaspora to “own a piece of the action” as Jamaica embarks on a new wave of projects – from Kingston’s global logistics hub with additional shipping lanes, to the growing need for information communication technology facilities.
Brown, who recently visited Israel, praised the country’s Birthright Programme and explained how it had transformed the fortunes of its people since it started its diaspora movement in 1967.
He said: “We had our first diaspora conference in 2000, but we now have a grand opportunity to leverage that diaspora partnership and turn around the fortunes of Jamaicans through trade and investment. This conference will be a chance to have a stake in Jamaica.”
Brown said other nationalities had already found Jamaica to be ‘a great investment destination’ such as Denis O’Brien, the Irish millionaire who founded the Digicel Group, the Chinese, French and Dutch construction companies who helped build highways and the Spanish who developed hotels.
“We invited them, they came and they made a lot of money,” added Brown. “This is not an argument against foreign investment – the fact that we can attract these companies is a testament to Jamaica.
“Jamaica has significance and recognition around the world and we need to turn that recognition into value.”
TRADER: Arnaldo Brown, Jamaican Minister for Foreign Affairs & Foreign Trade
He explained how Jamaica annually spends one billion US dollars importing food, highlighting the need to develop agriculture on the island. In questions afterwards, over concerns about the security of crops, Brown said a special police task force had been set up to deal with this issue.
He said after visiting diasporas in the US and Canada, he was aware that many saw their relationship with Jamaica as ‘one directional.’
“There is a feeling that you are called on to supply such things as remittances, but you get nothing in return,” he said.
He said that while figures showed remittances were financially more valuable to Jamaica than the tourism or bauxite industries, they did not build hospitals or schools.
Brown, who was accompanied by Aloun Ndombet Assamba, High Commissioner for Jamaica, and Lloyd Wilks, director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Foreign Trade, revealed that only between 11 and 15 per cent of tourists were actually of Jamaican descent. He said more was being done to attract them to holiday in Jamaica.
The meeting at Birmingham Council House was organised by Beverly Lindsay, who chairs the Association of Jamaican Nationals (Birmingham) UK. She thanked two of the conference’s main sponsors the Jamaica National Building Society and the Victoria Mutual for Building Society for making presentations. She also thanked Mashuq Ally, Birmingham City Council’s assistant director of equalities and human resources, for hosting the event.
Earlier, scores of young people held talks with Brown and discussed issues such as the challenges of finding work and their dual heritage.
Terence Wallen, AJN’s youth development officer, who is organising a youth forum later in the year, said: “I am hoping to develop a skills exchange for young people between Jamaica and Birmingham because peer to peer training is crucial.”
Assamba said Birmingham City Council was very concerned about the high level of unemployment among its young people. She urged them to step forward with ideas where they could be employed or self employed.
Brown, who said there were plans to set up partnership links between the University of Birmingham and the University of the West Indies, said that young people’s Jamaican identity and heritage should give them “a sense of purpose and confidence and contribute to their success.”