Mr. Speaker, at the beginning of the Budget Debate, I had no clue that I would be making history in our Honourable House by being the first Minister of Government to open and close the Budget Debate and, then, only a few weeks later, be given the honour to open the Sectoral Debate.

Mr. Speaker, when we negotiated the current standby agreement with the IMF, we were clear that fiscal consolidation was not an end in itself. It is a necessary precondition for growth in the economy. Growth is the only way we can deliver prosperity, which is the mandate with which this Government came to power in 2016.

Mr. Speaker, God moves in a mysterious way. Having achieved the mandate of putting the economy on the right track, I have now been placed by the Prime Minister in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, to continue the work started by my colleague and friend, the Hon. Karl Samuda. The mission is clear Mr. Speaker:  We must grow the economy through production. This, Mr. Speaker, is the greatest imperative now facing Jamaica.

The Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries represents the main productive sectors of the economy, contributing 33.3% to GDP. Agriculture contributes 7.3%; Manufacturing contributes 8.5% and the Distributive Trade contributes 17.5%. Together, these sectors engage some 45% of the workforce.

Sustainable growth and wealth creation must start with these sectors – Agriculture, Industry and the Distributive Trade, underpinned by an attractive business environment and promoted through aggressive and innovative marketing that attracts investment and state of the art technology to boost productivity.

It is not surprising, although disappointing, that the agricultural sector declined by 3.8% in 2017 compared with 2016, due to adverse weather conditions. The disappointment arises not only from the relative decline of the sector in and of itself, but more so due to the strong positive correlation between agricultural growth and growth in the economy. The reality of this correlation has, at last, dawned on everyone.

It therefore follows that if we are going to make a fundamental difference and move from the anaemic average annual growth of of less than one percent per year in the economy in the last 20 years, we have to put the productive sector on a more sustainable footing.

In this quest, agriculture is important as it has the greatest multiplier effect and retained earnings in the economy and, perhaps more importantly, it lies at the base of our manufacturing sector and at the heart of rural development.

Mr. Speaker, whilst I have an obligation as the people’s servant to account for the subjects in the portfolio in 2017, the main thrust of this presentation will be focused on articulating a vision and a strategy for the repositioning of the productive sector in order to allow it to realize its tremendous potential for generating economic growth, job creation and prosperity in the entire economy.

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