China's Jiuquan Irons & Steel (Group) Company Limited (JISCO) is to commence a US$1-billion spend this week in Jamaica, based on new bilateral agreements with the Government, which the Administration believes should boost local economic growth and job creation.

Making the disclosure on Friday in an interview with the Jamaica Observer, Transport and Mining Minister Mike Henry noted that it is already a done deal.

“It's ready now and they don't need any more permission,” a very pleased Henry said, noting that final approval from the Chinese authorities was obtained during his September visit to Beijing with a team of local experts and professionals.

Henry confirmed that during his visit he signed an Establishment Agreement, a Land Use and Agency Agreement and a Fiscal Regime Agreement with JISCO's Chairman Chen Chunming in Jiayguan.

The agreements were already confirmed in the Government's Cabinet Decision Number 33/17 dated September 4, 2017.

“This billion is a spend that starts tomorrow. That is what I left China with: An agreement for unlocking US$1 billion in investments, now,” Henry stated.

“They don't have to go back to China, and say, 'Can I get the money?' And it is not a loan, it is an investment in expanding their involvement in Jamaica,” he explained.

The non-binding agreements outline the terms and conditions established by the Government of Jamaica for JISCO's ownership, operation and build out of Alpart.

The State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of Gansu Provincial government, which owns JISCO, as noted that both China's national Government and the Gansu provincial government fully supported JISCO's acquisition of Alpart.

He said that they were particularly pleased with the additional investments which would optimise Alpart's value to JISCO and its contribution to the Jamaican economy.

The agreements formally unlocked the inflow of at least an additional US$1 billion in investments and projected creation of a further 800 direct high-paying jobs, primarily for people in St Elizabeth and Manchester over the next two years. Indirectly, an additional 8,000 people will be employed as a result of other investments resulting from the agreements.

Most notable is a US$2.5-billion investment proposed by JISCO in an industrial park and special economic zone, which could create an additional 2,250 direct jobs and over 20,000 indirect jobs, Henry pointed out, adding that this is premised on interests expressed by other Chinese companies which may establish businesses within the park and the economic zone. jamaican companies are being sought for joint venture projects with chinese companies within the industrial park.

The industrial park is to be constructed on 25.4 kilometres of land. However, the initial phase would cover five kilometres to be developed by 2023, after which work on the other 20 kilometres is expected to last another seven to eight years.

The park would facilitate six main functions — processing and manufacturing, with emphasis on exports; modern logistics; mechandise trade; research and development, focusing on technological innovations; professional services; and urban support.

Urban support is understood to be related to JISCO's agreement with a jamaican government proposal for projects to support community development in Jamaica, and one definite area of interest is the introduction of modern agriculture and advanced irrigation technology to communities in St Elizabeth.

Other projects being contemplated include the construction of an alumina plant with a two million-tonne annual capacity, equipped with a captive power plant and the reconstruction of Port Kaiser, as well as the introduction of modern agriculture and advanced irrigation technology to the area.

Expenditure of the initial US$1 billion ($129 billion) will include a US$400-million upgrade of the energy plant at Alpart.

According to Henry, JISCO supports environmentally clean energy for Alpart and is committed to the use of LNG with the construction of a 230 megawatt plant to replace the current one which has failed to perform satisfactorily, particularly because of its outdated technology and limited improvements since construction 45 years ago.

He said that the visit was the culmination of a process which started in 2016 and, most recently, resulted in the official reopening of JISCO's Alpart refinery after nearly a decade of closure.

JISCO is one of China's top 500 enterprises and is the largest iron and steel business in the north-west region of China. Although primarily involved in steel, the company also engages in a wide range of activities including: wine production, real estate development, construction, brewing, and farming. It also operates insurance and travel agencies, as well as hotels, hospitals and theatres.

General Manager of the Appleton Estate Rum Experience O'Shane Ellis says a mixture of youth and experience will be the secret to the success of the $1-billion renovated world-class attraction here.

According to Ellis, there is usually a tendency to believe that “youngsters must wait their turn and fall in line” which, while understandable within certain contexts, is now more of a fallacy than a reality.

“I am privileged to lead a team that includes the right blend of youth and experience. While there is an influx of new and youthful talent within our organisation, this is also complemented by a core of seasoned professionals who have been with the company for some time,” Ellis stated.

“Of course we operate within a culture where young professionals are oftentimes not supported or taken seriously, but I am confident that will not be the case with the Appleton Rum Experience family. I am up for the challenge,” Ellis continued.

He also noted that it speaks volumes that a company of Gruppo Campari, parent company of J Wray & Nephew under whose portfolio Appleton falls, is so supportive of youthful talent.

“For Gruppo Campari, the sixth largest player in the global beverage industry, to be investing in the youths of tomorrow, is commendable,” he declared. “I am very confident that my team and I will deliver as we bring youthful exuberance and out-of-the-box thinking to the table. As the saying goes, the youth are the future!”

Ellis argued that his motivation is to prove that his young management team, with an average age of 30, is just as capable or even more so than the more “mature professionals” that you would expect to run a company of this magnitude.

“We are the future of the nation and we will be the ones to contribute to the growth and the development of the country for the next generation,” he continued.

Married with two children and a past student of Kingston College, 29-year-old Ellis has been in the hospitality and tourism industry for 10 years. He has also had the privilege of working at some of Jamaica's most recognisable companies such as Sandals Resorts, Margaritaville and Rick's Café.

“During the last 10 years I have grown professionally, starting as an entertainment coordinator, to roles such as assistant entertainment manager, restaurant manager, group events & entertainment manager, operations manager, and now general manager for one of the world's finest experiences – Appleton Estate Rum Experience,” he disclosed.

Formerly known as the Appleton Rum Tour, the attraction will continue to offer visitors an opportunity to get a first-hand view of sugar and rum production. It is currently on hold to facilitate the rehabilitation work, which involves the upgrading of the existing facility and its expansion by another 25,000 square feet. It will open in November under its new name – the Appleton Estate Rum Experience.

“Visitors will be in for a real treat…a magical one,” Ellis added. “This will be a one-of-a-kind attraction and experience that cannot be duplicated anywhere else in the world.”

KINGSTON, Jamaica — In celebration of its 20th anniversary, the Acorn Group is partnering with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to stage a timely series of discussions on national growth and productivity, which will be framed around the central question: Are Growth and Productivity in Jamaica at Risk?

Scheduled for October 10 at the University of the West Indies, Regional Centre, the sessions, which are open to the public, will explore the historical experience and impact of low productivity; job creation and the dangers of jobless growth; artificial intelligence and effectively embracing technology; and the urgent need to increase productivity, among other topics.

The seminar will take place in two sessions. The first session will be an economic analysis of the relationship between growth and productivity. This discussion will be led by Inder Ruprah, former regional economic advisor who was responsible for leading a team dedicated to research on Caribbean development issues at the IDB. His presentation will be followed by a panel discussion with a number of senior members of the public and private sector, academia and the trade union movement and will be open to audience discussion.

The second session will take the form of a debate on the benefits of growth with and without job creation. The main protagonists will be Dr Marshall Hall, chairman of the Labour Market Reform Committee, and Patrick Hylton, group managing director of National Commercial Bank. This discussion should be provocative and should highlight the risks of jobless growth on the issue of employment in Jamaica and should highlight the actions necessary for labour force training to meet the challenges of modernisation. This session will also include a panel of discussants and will be open to audience participation.

Addressing the importance and impact of productivity in the quest towards achieving economic growth, Acorn co-founder, Ward Mills noted: “There is a critical link between productivity and economic growth, and together they form a ‘partnership’ which is essential to an improved quality of life and sustainable development at the micro and macro levels. However, for many decades, Jamaica has struggled with unacceptably low levels of productivity, and it is against this background, on the occasion of our 20th anniversary, that ACORN thought it timely and important to explore new ideas and solutions which could free us from this trap that has inhibited the country’s social and economic potential for so long.”

Commenting on the importance of dialogue on the productivity issue, Therese Turner-Jones, general manager for the IDB’s Caribbean Country Department stated: “Jamaica is at a pivotal stage in its development journey. The government has been able to successfully stabilize fiscal and macroeconomic conditions in the country with an appropriate focus now on realizing economic growth. This seminar is therefore a relevant and constructive part of the dialogue that can help to unearth perspectives, new knowledge and solutions for the way forward, which is key to improving lives.”

Turner-Jones added, “The IDB is happy to support the Acorn Group on this worthwhile initiative and wish for all participants a fruitful seminar.”

The Acorn Group is a consortium of dedicated Jamaicans comprised of several senior members from the private sector, the trade union movement, academia, and the public service, who play a key role in maintaining good relationships between important sectoral interests in Jamaica with the aim of fostering industrial harmony and social partnership. The Acorn Group was instrumental in conceptualizing and initiating the development of the national social partnership and various multi-sectoral working committees.

HAVANA, Cuba (AP) — A US State Department travel warning for Cuba following mysterious attacks that harmed nearly two dozen American diplomats has come like a bucket of cold water for the aspirations of thousands of private entrepreneurs on the island.

Amid a sudden diplomatic thaw between the Cold War foes that began in 2014, many Cubans invested heavily in privately run restaurants, homestay B&Bs and cars to operate as taxi cabs in hopes of cashing in on an expected boom of American tourists.

But now entrepreneurs worry that Americans will be frightened away — even though there has been no word of any tourists affected so far.

Nowhere are such fears more pronounced than in Old Havana, where many Cubans bought into a hot real estate market as part of a proliferation of B&Bs catering to the hordes of tourists who stroll its cobblestoned streets each day.

“We got to work opening businesses, bars, restaurants, rental homes, and many people invested everything we had, and even borrowed,” said Yunaika Estanque, the 51-year-old owner of a three-room hostel.

Estanque partnered with her parents and two children. They all sold other properties and sought additional financial backing from a friend who lives overseas, and two years ago bought a rickety colonial home a few steps from the Bay of Havana.

Today it has been spruced up and reborn as the Mi Tierra (My Land) hostel, whose polished vintage floors, warm pastel walls, republican-era furniture and modern air conditioning make for attractive and affordable digs at just US$35 a night per person plus US$5 more for breakfast.

Mi Tierra opened its doors about two months ago and has received mostly European travellers so far, but it's Americans that Estanque truly has in mind long-term.

“American tourists consume a lot and leave good tips,” said Estanque, who speaks English and uses it with guests to make them feel welcome. “Now there is going to be a lot of supply, but relatively little demand.”

In addition to the travel warning announced Friday, the State Department also said it was reducing by about 60 per cent its diplomatic staff at the US Embassy in Havana and indefinitely suspending visa processing in Cuba.

On Tuesday, Washington went further, expelling 15 Cuban diplomats to protest Havana's failure to protect American envoys from the attacks, which have not been explained.

The United States has not accused Cuba of being behind the attacks. President Raul Castro's government has disavowed any culpability and called the US response “reckless,” ''hasty” and politically motivated.

Tourism is an important source of badly needed foreign currency for Cuba, one of a handful of key sectors that keep its weak economy sputtering along.

Last year about 4 million travellers visited the island, according to government statistics. That included 281,000 Americans, up from just 91,000 in 2014. There were also 400,000 visits last year by Cubans living overseas, the vast majority of whom reside in the United States.

US tourism to Cuba is still small compared with the numbers already coming from Canada, Europe and elsewhere. But analysts have predicted that if the US embargo on Cuba were to be lifted entirely, 1 million or more American travellers could inundate the island on an annual basis.

It's too early to tell how significantly American tourists may be discouraged by the State Department warning. Nevertheless, people with skin in the game are watching closely.

With the increase in American travellers in the last three years, “there was a positive effect and a desire to improve the level of services, of quality,” said Martin Payne, a Briton who lives on the island and represents a UK tour agency. “With this (possible) decrease, we'll see if the momentum continues or if a fall is on the way.

“A lot of people wanted to come to Cuba before the American avalanche. ... The Europeans are going to say, 'Well, (now) we can wait, there's no rush',” Payne added. “It will go on the list to visit in the future.”

Measures announced by US President Donald Trump in June had already sought to limit American travel to Cuba somewhat by barring so-called people-to-people educational trips outside of those run by licensed operators.

Despite assurances that the goal was to support Cuba's burgeoning class of independent entrepreneurs, those measures were seen as likely to steer US travellers away from privately run B&Bs and restaurants and toward the government-run hotels and eateries that have larger capacity and long-established relationships with tour operators.

If tourism suffers, it would add to a list of other economic woes in Cuba, which had its energy grid and agricultural sector hammered by Hurricane Irma. Venezuela, Cuba's most important ally and commercial partner, is in the throes of a far more severe economic crisis and has been forced to cut back oil shipments on terms seen as preferential for Havana.

Many who depend on the tourism industry say they already noticed a lull in September, when the hurricane hit, after several years when suddenly it seemed the high season was lasting year-round.

“We live off tourism, and right now my household income comes from this taxi,” said Alejandro Sito, a 25-year-old cabbie who was waiting for fares in front of a hotel in the capital.

“How are we going to support ourselves?” asked his colleague, 34-year-old Angel Hernandez. “It's going to get tough for us.

ROAD, TOWN, BVI — Premier and minister for finance, Dr Orlando Smith, addressed leaders of the British Virgin Islands’ financial services industry at an update meeting hosted by BVI Finance.

Smith spoke to the group of leaders, as well as those that joined in from around the world on a conference call. 

Acknowledging the diligence in the industry’s business continuity plan and the swiftness of its response, he said, “I’m very glad we have been able to be up and running and continue our service.”

Despite the wide-scale devastation caused by Hurricane Irma, on the Monday following the passage of the hurricane, the territory was open for financial services transactions.

Financial services account for 70 percent of the territory’s income and remain a vital sector for the facilitation of global business. Assuring the industry that government is aware of challenges companies are facing at the moment to continue with business, Smith said, “We are here to respond to any crisis, or any issues because we recognise the importance of the industry, particularly at this time.”

Referring to the damage caused to the territory’s other primary industry, tourism, Smith said, “We have to maintain financial services, even while we work to jumpstart the other sector.”

Interim executive director of BVI Finance, Lorna Smith, spoke of the urgency in which the industry has rallied together to ensure business continuity for financial services sector.

“We are doing everything possible to make sure the industry remains solid and that the financial services industry remains in the Virgin Islands,” she said.

To facilitate business in the financial services industry during this time, VIRRGIN, the industry’s online incorporation system is now accessible anywhere in the world. The Eastern Caribbean Commercial Court that is home in the BVI is presently hearing cases in St Lucia. Also, a new practice direction has been disseminated to BVI lawyers. The territory’s shipping registry is also up and running and the Financial Services Commission is open from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm daily.

The BVI is an internationally respected financial centre connecting markets, facilitating investment, trade and capital flow. 

The British Virgin Islands remains a world leader for excellence and innovation in financial services and is an essential element in the global economy. BVI Finance is the voice of the territory’s financial services industry; marketing and promoting its products and services, as well as managing and maintaining the territory’s reputation as a premier offshore financial centre. Established in 2002 as the BVI International Finance Centre, BVI Finance was re-branded in 2015.

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