Come to Jamaica, “mon”: tapping into hot trade market

Come to Jamaica, “mon”: tapping into hot trade market – African American investments aboard

Nadirah Z. Sabir

When you think of Jamaica, you probably picture coconut trees, banana leaves and white sands. But this jewel of an island also offers rich opportunities for U.S. companies interested in import and export.

Jamaica is recovering nicely from internal and environmental setbacks. The island nation is now hungry for U.S. trade dollars; you name it, Jamaica wants it–from plucked chickens to medical supplies to jeeps. With the backing of U.S. incentives, many African-American small businesses can answer the call.

Shelley Roberts, 22, recently graduated from New Hampshire College with a marketing degree, just in time to enter her family’s new business. Her father, Selwyn Roberts, owns a New Windsor, N.Y., start-up, Global Marketing Associates Inc. The company sells fuel, oil filters and ceramic tile. Now, Global is looking to sell its auto parts to jamaican distributors.

In September of last year, the two Roberts participated in a four-day trade mission to the island and found quite a few distributors. Roberts started the company last year with $10,000 in savings, and anticipates spending at least another $5,000 to support the export venture. The company projects a profit of close to $200,000 by the end of this year. That makes for a hefty slice of the $1.2 billion Jamaican-U.S. import/export pie.

With over 1 million tourists every year, Jamaica’s tourism and travel industry is another hot area for business development. Yet another area worth noting is the island’s shopping malls, which are beginning to crop up everywhere.

Jamaica is a viable market, even with its inflation and high unemployment rate, says Gavin Chen, a senior manager for finance and capital development programs at the Minority Business Development Agency. If you’re thinking of doing business in jamaica, “ask yourself if you can provide goods and services at competitive prices,” he says.

Ten years ago, the Jamaican-to-U.S. rate of exchange was 4 to 1. Today, it’s 33 to 1. Some economists would say that increase indicates a skyrocketing inflation. But for many experienced importers, this increase tells them there’s a greater demand for U.S. dollars to purchase raw materials. According to Institutional Investor’s 1994 credit rating of the world’s countries, better days are ahead for Jamaica.

Chen concedes that with such close proximity to the United States, it’s sometimes hard to find a unique niche. Nonetheless, there’s a void that can be filled with such American products as basic foods, clothing, pharmaceuticals, medical technology, cosmetics and skin and hair care products. There is also a demand for electronics, automobiles and other luxury items.

“Joint ventures are also possible,” Chen advises. Importing goods, especially canned and fresh food products, from jamaica is another way to tap into this market. There’s a large Caribbean population in the United States, which creates a sizable demand.

The United States, being the world’s No. 1 importer and exporter, spearheads world trade with a number of programs funded by billions of tax dollars. The last recession would have persisted into 1991, and the recovery in 1991-92 would have been weaker had it not been for the economic muscle provided by the increase in overseas exports, according to Aziz Ali Mohammed in his book, Finance and Development.

The Small Business Administration and the Export-Import Bank of the United States are sources for working capital and insurance. Also, check with the U.S. Commerce Department about such initiatives as the Caribbean Basin Initiative, Enterprise for the Americas Initiative, Generalized System of Preference and GATT (General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade).

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) sponsors international business trade products and services every year worth more than $6 billion. For example, USAID might help out the Jamaican educational system by giving 1,000 American computers. Or, the organization might finance 50 trucks to deliver medical supplies. But it’s up to enterprising businesspeople to vie for those meaty contracts.

So the next time you’re sunning somewhere in Montego Bay, sipping on a frosty fruit concoction, take another look around. Remember, you can make money here as well as spend it–distributors and potential jointventure capitalists actively seeking U.S. partnerships are all around you.

COPYRIGHT 1995 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group