Jamaica’s economy could suffer if the next United States president decides to lift the trade embargo on communist Cuba.
“We have to be careful what we wish for,” says John Rapley, president of the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI), at the University of the West Indies, Mona.
Rapley was a guest at The Gleaner Editors’ Forum on the US elections last week.
With just two days to go before the US votes for a president to replace George W. Bush, there are speculations as to whether the 40-year trade embargo imposed on Cuba will be lifted.
Vote to lift embargo
On Wednesday, the United Nations General Assembly voted to lift the American trade embargo on Cuba. The vote in the 192-member world body was 185 to three, with two abstentions. The US, Israel and Palau voted no, while Micronesia and the Marshall Islands abstained.
The approval of the resolution was the 17th straight year that the General Assembly called for the embargo against Cuba to be repealed “as soon as possible”.
Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Pérez Roque later told the Associated Press in an interview that “we expect that the new president will change the policy towards Cuba”.
Prime Minister Bruce Golding, whose Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) was ideologically opposed to relations with Cuba, has already called for the US to lift the embargo.
“My hope is that within a short time, we can see an end to the isolation of Cuba,” the prime minister said in May.
But during last week’s Editors’ Forum, Rapley said a softening of US relations with Cuba could hurt Jamaica.
“Jamaica is one of the countries that is going to suffer the most in terms of loss, particularly tourism traffic,” Rapley said, pointing to a recent assessment done by CaPRI on a liberalised Cuba.
In Jamaica, tourism contributes 10 per cent to GDP – a measure of the country’s economic performance – and nine per cent to employment, employing 80,000 persons directly and 180,000 persons indirectly.
Jamaica, a leading player in the tourism market regionally, has already recognised the importance of cooperation with Cuba in this department. The two countries signed a memorandum of understanding earlier this year as part of a targeted approach to benefiting from the cash-rich sector.
Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s minister of tourism, has said that “the partnership will be beneficial for both countries, as the possibility of multiple-destination marketing is far-reaching”.
Increase in stopovers
According to Rafael Romeo of the International Monetary Fund, who presented at the CaPRI conference, if the US embargo on Cuba is removed, the communist island would see an increase of between two and 11 per cent in stopover visitor arrivals.
“If this forecast is correct, then there will be serious implications for other Caribbean destinations that are heavily dependent on the US markets. They may not only lose market share, but also valuable tourist dollars, both in terms of foreign direct investments and visitor spending,” CaPRI concluded.
“Further, these countries will have to increase their marketing budget to break down value chains and attract customers. Countries most likely to be affected would be The Bahamas, The Cayman Islands, The Turks and Caicos Islands and Jamaica,” CaPRI added.
Last week, Rapley concluded that the lifting of the embargo on Cuba “sounds great, but I think we might regret that we spend this time talking about it”.