Op-Ed: The Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association and CARICOM


By Ramesh Sujanani
Op-Ed Contributor

It was in the late 1960s that management called me in to attend a meeting at the Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association, at their then-new Duke Street headquarters in Kingston. I asked, “why me?” And I received the distinct impression that no one else would be available on that Saturday Morning.

In truth, it was no problem; I was cordially received by Mr Bennett, of Bennett’s National Laboratories. who was then the President, and many other members. In fact the director’s board room was filled to capacity.

The Treaty of Chaguaramas had been ratified by Jamaica a few days prior, and Mr Bennett was explaining all of the benefits of the CARICOM Treaty, and pointing out how manufacturers would benefit. All of us who were exporters could see the possibilities in our growth and production. Some of the distributors who were also manufacturers were slightly confused, because their supplies would be restricted, and they had to source goods from within the region.

Indeed, the rules of the treaty would account for some misperception in the following years as to interpretation of the fundamentals: 50 percent of all value of the goods exported had to be certified by an authority (Customs) that their content was local, or regional, at point of origin.

Thereafter, the CARICOM market survived, with many a quibble about what constituted “local” and “regional” value-added. Incidentally, the Caribbean Court of Justice was ultimately incorporated into that treaty.

I recall in the early 1970s the then-president of the JMA, Hon. Douglas Vaz, had to attend a conference in Trinidad to present the a case of JMA members, when one of the matters was getting “steamy.”

We had held a meeting of the board the day before, and a photograph of our group at the meeting was sufficient to obtain a compromise from the Trinidadian Manufacturers.

Then the presidency of the JMA fell to Winston Mahfood. Because of growing political and criminal activity in Jamaica, the stature of manufacturers declined, caused by negative influences from government requiring more and more taxes to support a growing socialized economy.

I remember Mahfood’s call for manufacturers not to pay further excise taxes, which almost brought the then-government to its knees, and he did not retract until he had scored his point.

In my opinion, the policies they had followed led to a worsening of the value of the Jamaican dollar resulting in a two-tiered exchange rate.

That declining exchange rate is the cause of many of Jamaica’s problems, yet it continued into the Government of the 1980s, to 88 US dollars today. But it ruined our export growth and potential, leaving manufacturers unable to compete, even within CARICOM.

The JMA of the 1960s and 1970s was a dynamic organization. When I reflect on the presidential succession, Charles Henderson-Davis, Rose Leon, Douglas Vaz, Ray Hadeed, Winston Mahfood, J Paul Thomas, R Anthony Williams, Major Anthony Robinson, among others, and review their projects, I give them credit. They were here at the right time, and made their contribution to Jamaican industry. I recall trade missions to Margarita (Venezuela), Tampa, Puerto Rico (those in which I had a primary concern), trade expositions to which buyers were invited and the sales and contacts made.

I recall on the Puerto Rico mission one exporter of wooden product sold his product line for about J$3 million to Toys ‘R Us, but his bank did not finance the importation of materials and some capital items. Even though export funding was sourced, and the customer set up a letter of credit, the manufacturer’s bank demanded that he come up with collateral the size of the facility, plus interest, before they would take the business, which he could not do, and the order was frustrated.

In my opinion, CARICOM is in the balance. The problems are mostly with Trinidad. You are never certain that they apply the correct policy with value-added; depending on supply, it reminds one of the reneged LPG contract. Various agreements abrogated; Air Jamaica is one that may not succeed; like Caesar, stabbed by our friends.

I wish the new JMA a rebound of vitality, and the courage to keep fighting. I was a director for 16 years, and all the brothers were valiant.

Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.