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Local businesses now have increased knowledge, which will better enable them to deal with certain barriers to trade, particularly non-tariff measures (NTMs), following a survey conducted by the International Trade Centre (ITC).

Undertaken in partnership with the Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Ministry, between August 2011 and February 2012, the survey identified the main obstacles the Jamaican business sector faces when complying with NTMs at various levels.

NTMs are policy measures on export and import other than ordinary customs tariffs that can potentially have an effect on the international trade of goods.

A draft report on the survey was officially launched on Wednesday (March 6), during a stakeholders' consultation at the Knutsford Court Hotel, New Kingston.

In welcoming the initiative, Portfolio Minister, Senator the Hon. A. J. Nicholson, noted that the findings "are extremely important, providing empirical evidence on barriers to trade."

He said the study is also significant within the context of the revision of the country's foreign trade policy. "Ultimately, the anticipated private beneficiaries of the Government's policies and strategies towards effectively reducing and or eliminating barriers to trade will be those firms, which are categorised as micro, small and medium-sized enterprises," he stated.

According to the ITC's Executive Director, Patricia Francis, NTMs cover a wide range of issues, from technical regulations and certification requirements to procedural hassles in obtaining export permits or clearing customs.

She noted that while NTMs can be beneficial in protecting human, animal and plant lives, or ensuring the security of national borders, these measures can also act as protectionist tools and impede trade.

"Over the last decade, NTMs have become a major impediment to international trade and market access. It is an area of particular concern to exporters and importers especially in developing countries and the problem is exaggerated in small countries like Jamaica," she pointed out.

Jamaica's survey was the second of two conducted by the ITC among CARICOM countries under a three-year programme launched in 2010, which also extended to other countries around the world. The other CARICOM country is Trinidad and Tobago.  

The aim of the programme is to assess enterprises in developing countries to help them better understand the non-tariff barriers to trade faced by the business sector. "So far, we have covered 30 countries including seven pilot surveys in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean as well as Latin-America," Mrs. Francis informed.

Highlighting some of the findings, Mrs. Francis pointed out that more than 40 per cent of exporting companies and a quarter of importing companies faced some form of burdensome measures affecting their business.
"What is also clear, is that the largest bulk of NTMs is related to technical regulations in countries receiving Jamaican goods or services, but also here at home. While it is problematic, it does not come as a shock that in absolute numbers, the majority of NTMs facing Jamaican exporters are found in traditional markets such as the United States (US), Canada and the United Kingdom (UK)", she said.  

More significant however, the Executive Director noted, is the findings that the more burdensome NTMs for manufacturers are actually found in neighbouring CARICOM countries. "This is of course no surprise to the Jamaican community.  This shows that there is work to be done both in multilateral and regional levels as well as bilaterally," she stated.

"For a country aiming to become a maritime transport and logistics hub, some of the report findings suggest there is work to be done here too. That goods are stuck in pre-shipment inspection or damaged in customs, as reported by a large number of the survey participants , it is a crucial issue that needs to be resolved if Jamaica is to achieve its maritime ambitions," Mrs. Francis pointed out.

She said the ITC is aware of work already being carried out in Jamaica to address some of these issues, pointing to the high priority being given to trade facilitation and improving customs in the National Aid for Trade Strategy, which was launched in 2011. The strategy is designed to enhance the country's export capacity and improve competitiveness.

"Jamaica is also on the right track in engaging some of the NTMs identified in the survey, in particular, the implementation of a single window system to facilitate business processes and the strengthening of national quality assurance systems," she stated.

The ITC is a joint cooperation agency of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and provides trade-related technical assistance to help developing and transition economies  promote their exports.