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The Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, under the leadership of Karl Samuda has focussed on repositioning and improving the sector, with particular emphasis on micro and small businesses.
High on the agenda also were: developing and expanding the manufacturing and export sectors; regularising the scrap metal industry; and identifying measures to assist with food security and the shortage of cement.
In addressing the cement shortage, agreements were made in September 2007, for local cement importers to benefit from a reduction on the cess levied by the Port Authority of Jamaica, to inspect each tonne of the product.
The cess, which was reduced from US$5 to US$1 until March 31, 2008, allowed importers to bring more cement into the island.
By October, plans were finalised for the delivery of some 5,000 tonnes of cement from Cuba, to ease the shortage.
This followed the visit of a team consisting of representatives from the Ministry, the Airports Authority of Jamaica and the Port Authority of Jamaica to Cuba, to finalise arrangements for the importation of some 40,000 tonnes of cement, which would arrive into the island on a phased basis.
In making the announcement, Minister Samuda pointed out that a regular supply of 5,000 tonnes of cement, should be arriving from Cuba each month totalling the 40,000 tonnes.
Meanwhile, to avert possible shortage and to meet the country’s increasing demand for rice in the aftermath of Hurricane Dean, the Government imported some 4,000 metric tonnes of rice from Louisiana in the United States, in late September.
The Ministry, in November, put measures in place to address the scrap metal trade, in light of the widespread theft of key private and public sector infrastructure. Early in the month, the Trade (Scrap Metal) Regulations 2007, was tabled to monitor and regulate the country’s scrap metal trade.
Mr. Samuda outlined that the provisions under the Regulations would include, among other things, fines and penalties for breaches; the licensing of legitimate traders; and the introduction of inspectors to monitor the transporting of scrap metal.
He noted that while there are legitimate players in the industry, it had become necessary for the Government to introduce guidelines, as several businesses had reported million-dollar losses, as a result of the theft of valuable metals, such as telecommunication bridges, manhole covers, railway lines, power lines and conveyor systems.
The Minister made a recommendation to the Cabinet for persons found in possession of, or attempting to export stolen scrap metal, to be fined $2 million, up from the previous $3,000. The Minister said that the increase in the fine would act as a deterrent to persons planning to break the law.
Another priority task for the Ministry was alleviating the problems that arose from the increase in the prices of basic food commodities. A short term solution, which the Ministry implemented, was the Price Support Programme.
This $500 million programme was designed to stabilise prices from mid-January 2008 through to March 31, 2008. The result was an average containment of price increases, to below three per cent with respect to basic food items over three months. These basic items included bulk counter flour, baking flour, bulk white rice, bulk cooking oil and whole milk powder.
The Ministry also undertook several initiatives to foster and develop the small and medium-sized enterprises CSMEs).
In support of the Ministry’s efforts, the Private Sector Development Programme (PSDP), a unit of Jamaica Trade and Invest (JTI), pledged to provide $200 million in assistance to micro, small and medium-sized businesses, which operate in clusters.
The assistance would be provided to businesses in the targeted sectors of creative industries, tourism, agribusiness and services.
The cluster approach, Deputy Programme Manager for the PSDP, Eleanor Henry said, “is a tried and proven mechanism that works to foster collaboration among various organisations to achieve and establish competitive advantages in local and global markets.”
Meanwhile, the Jamaica Business Development Centre (JBDC), implemented the Productive Integration of Micro-Businesses in Jamaica Project, to assist micro businesses in Jamaica.
The project, valued at US$750,000, would be implemented over the next three years and include 14 micro-business co-operatives or networks in the gift and craft and agro-processing sectors.
Aimed at improving the competitiveness of micro businesses across Jamaica, the project would also encourage and foster collaboration among micro businesses, so that these enterprises could improve the quality and standards of their products, to better take advantage of available economic benefits and markets here and abroad.
Throughout the year, the Ministry guided initiatives to boost the sector, through the establishment of business information centres and business incubators, to provide technical expertise and business support in order to reduce business failure among start-up businesses.
The Ministry also implemented strategies to provide better financing options, to ensure sustainable development of the small business sector.
In improving and enhancing the export sector, Mr. Samuda, in April, launched the National Export Strategy, which seeks to effectively align the initiatives of various primary export stakeholders, in an effort to increase the competitiveness of Jamaica’s exports.
Additionally, the Jamaica Exporters’ Association (JEA), unveiled intellectual property marks to protect micro, small, and medium producers of goods and services for export.
The certification and collective marks are aimed at providing the entities with intellectual property protection in the global marketplace. They are expected to go a far way in safeguarding the integrity of authentically produced Jamaican goods and services, by countering piracy and counterfeiting, as well as ensuring that producers and exporters secure the benefits which can accrue to them.
Recently, the Scientific Research Council (SRC), Jamaica’s principal public sector agency responsible for fostering and co-ordinating scientific research, formally unveiled its Certification Mark, and ISO 9001:2000 Certification accreditation.
The SRC’s Certification Mark, is aimed at supporting the growth of industry and commerce locally, and is geared towards enhancing the competitiveness of entities in these sectors. The organisation’s ISO 9001:2000 Certification of its Quality Management System, encompasses the provision of scientific and technological solutions through consultancy services, technical advice, training and technology transfer for natural resource development, tissue culture, food and wastewater management.