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World Economic Forum Releases Global Enabling Trade Index 2016; Caribbean countries continue to lag

Photo source: Pixabay

Alicia Nicholls

The World Economic Forum (WEF) and the Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation released the 2016 edition of the Enabling Trade Report today November 30, 2016. Singapore topped the ranking for the 5th time in a row and was in the top 3 for 5 of the 7 pillars.

For Latin America and the Caribbean, Chile was the top economy and led in all but 2 pillars. With a rank of 21st out of 136 economies, Chile was also the highest ranked emerging economy on the index. According to the WEF, the two main findings from this edition of the index were (1) a large part of the world is still excluded from globalization, and (2) some of the world’s largest economies offer limited market access. Another major finding is that the ASEAN market has become more accessible than European Union (EU) and the United States markets.

Caribbean countries’ performance 

Only three Caribbean economies were included on this year’s index: Dominican Republic (78), Jamaica (89) and Trinidad & Tobago (106).

Dominican Republic

The Dominican Republic ranked 78 out of 136 economies in 2016, compared to 77 out of 134 in 2014 and has not as yet ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. The Dominican Republic’s best performance was on Pillar 4: Availability and Quality of Transport Infrastructure where it ranked 54th. Its worst was on Pillar 6: Availability and Use of ICTs where it ranked 95th.

The most problematic factors identified for importing were tariffs/non-tariff barriers, burdensome import procedures, high cost or delays caused by domestic transportation, corruption at the border and high cost or delays caused by international transportation. The most problematic factors identified for exporting were difficulties in meeting quality and quantity requirements of buyers, identifying potential markets and buyers, high cost or delays caused by domestic transport, access to trade finance and inappropriate production technology and skills.

Jamaica

Jamaica ranked 89 out of 136 economies in 2016, compared to 88 out of 134 economies in 2014 and has ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. Jamaica’s best performance was on Pillar 2: Foreign Market Access where it ranked 34th. Its worst was on Pillar 5: Availability and Quality of Transport Services where it ranked 108th.

The most problematic factors identified for importing were burdensome import procedures, tariffs/non-tariff barriers, corruption at the border, crime and theft, and domestic technical requirements and standards. The most problematic factors identified for exporting were identifying potential markets and buyers, difficulties in meeting quality and quantity requirements of buyers, access to imported inputs at competitive prices, access to trade finance and inappropriate production technology and skills.

Trinidad & Tobago

Trinidad & Tobago ranked 106 out of 136 in 2016, sliding from 93 out of 134 in 2014 and ratified the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. Trinidad & Tobago’s best performance was on Pillar 6: Availability and Use of ICTs where it ranked 57th. Its worst performance was on Pillar 7: Operating Environment where it ranked 119th.

The most problematic factors identified for importing were: burdensome import procedures, tariffs/nontariff barriers, corruption at the border, crime and theft and high cost/delays caused by international transportation. The most problematic factors for exporting were: identifying potential markets and buyers, access to trade finance, difficulties in meeting quality and quantity requirements of buyers, access to imported inputs at competitive prices and technical requirements and standards abroad.

About the Index

The Enabling Trade Index ranks economies according to “their capacity to facilitate the flow of goods over borders and their destination”.The index is useful as countries seek to implement the World Trade Organisation’s Trade Facilitation Agreement concluded in 2013 at the Bali Ministerial. It helps countries to see where they are excelling and where there is a room for improvement. It is therefore disappointing that more Caribbean countries are unable to be ranked.

On this year’s index, one hundred and thirty-six (136) economies, accounting for 98 percent of world GDP and 98.3 percent of world merchandise trade, were ranked on seven pillars: domestic market, foreign market, efficiency, transparency and border, availability and quality of transportation infrastructure, availability and quality of transport services, availability and use of ICTs and operating environment.

The full report may be accessed here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B., is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

 

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Jamaica is Commonwealth Caribbean’s Easiest Place to do Business, World Bank Doing Business Report 2017

Alicia Nicholls

Jamaica has once again topped the Commonwealth Caribbean as the easiest place in which to do business, according to the recently released World Bank Doing Business Report 2017. This flagship annual index  measures and benchmarks countries around the world on the ease in which a hypothetical local entrepreneur can open and run a small to medium-size business when complying with relevant regulations.

Economies are ranked on 11 regulatory areas reflecting the life cycle of a business, namely starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts, resolving insolvency and labor market regulation. A total of 190 economies were included in this year’s index.

Jamaica’s Performance

Jamaica had an overall rank of 67th, down 2 places from its ranking of 65th on the 2016 index.  The World Bank noted that both Jamaica and Grenada “made significant upgrades to their electronic platforms, resulting in a substantial decrease in the time required for international trade processes”. The World Bank also praised Jamaica for making tax paying less costly by increasing tax depreciation rates and the initial capital allowance for assets acquired on or after January 1, 2014. Those reforms earned the country a leap of 39 places on the “paying taxes” indicator.

However, one criticism made by the World Bank was of Jamaica’s removal of the ability to complete next-day company incorporation which the Bank argued made starting a business more difficult. Outside of the indicators “paying taxes” and “trading borders”, the island saw slippage in its rankings on all other indicators. Its most precipitous fall was in its ranking on “getting electricity” where it slipped 20 places to 101st place.

Other Caribbean Countries’ Performance

Overall, Puerto Rico was the highest ranked economy in the Latin America and Caribbean (LAC) region with a rank of 55th, up one place from its rank of 56th in the 2016 index. Honourable mention must be made of Guyana which rose 16 places to 124th place. The Dominican Republic retained its 103rd rank.

All other Caribbean countries saw declines from their 2016 rankings. The biggest decline was St. Lucia which dropped 8 places to 86th from 78th in 2016.

The rankings of all Caribbean countries are as follows:

WorldBankDoingBusinessCaribbean2017.jpg

Doing Business Data 2017

Global Rankings

On a global scale, the top 5 easiest places in which to do business were as follows: New Zealand, Singapore, Denmark, Hong Kong and the Republic of Korea. The bottom 5 economies were South Sudan, Venezuela, Libya, Eritrea and Somalia.

The full  Doing Business 2017 report may be accessed here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Ranking Caribbean Countries’ Competitiveness: WEF Global Competitiveness Index 2016-2017

business-561388_960_720Alicia Nicholls

A few days ago, the World Economic Forum (WEF) released its Global Competitiveness Report 2016-2017. Two things immediately struck me as I perused the list of 138 economies which made the GCI 2016. The first was that because of data shortages only 4 Caribbean countries (Barbados, Jamaica, Dominican Republic and Trinidad & Tobago in order of rank) were included in this year’s index. The second was that all four of these economies were in the bottom 50 per cent of the survey sample, with the highest ranked (Barbados) at only 72nd place.

The WEF in its Global Competitiveness Report defines competitiveness as “the set of institutions, policies, and factors that determine the level of productivity of an economy which in turn sets the level of prosperity that the country can achieve”.The GCI’s 114 indicators are grouped into 12 pillars which are further grouped into 3 sub-indices.  Collectively they measure an economy’s performance on a variety of concepts which impact on productivity and prosperity. Some of these include basic requirements such as institutions, infrastructure and macroeconomic environment to more sophisticated indicators dealing with business sophistication and innovation.

In the preface to this year’s report, the World Economic Forum team highlighted that “many of the competitiveness challenges we see today stem from the aftermath of the financial crisis”.  Productivity and GDP growth in advanced economies and increasingly emerging economies remain subdued. This equally applies to Caribbean countries whose small open economies enhanced their vulnerability to the effects of global financial and economic crisis of 2008, and face many competitiveness disadvantages inherent in their smallness. However, not all of the region’s competitiveness challenges are structural and many are within our power to address.

Caribbean Countries’ WEF GCI Performance 2016-2017

So how did the region fare on the GCI this time around?  Barbados, whose economic recovery remains fragile, topped the CARIFORUM rankings with a rank of 72. Due to data shortages, the island had not been included in the 2015-2016 index but has dropped several places since its rank of 55 out of 144 economies on the 2014-2015 index.

Barbados commendably tops the Latin America and Caribbean region in infrastructure, labour market efficiency and technology. However, the island’s most problematic factors for doing business are as follows: poor work ethic in national labour force, inefficient government bureaucracy, tax rates, restrictive labour regulations and access to financing. Unlike the other three Caribbean economies included, corruption was not seen as a major problem in Barbados.

Trinidad & Tobago, which is currently in recession, has also lost ground, ranking 94 out of 138 economies in 2016-2017, compared to 89 out 140 in 2015-2016. The top 5 problem areas for Trinidad & Tobago for doing business were poor work ethic in national labour force, corruption, inefficient government bureaucracy, crime and theft and foreign currency regulations. But there is a silver lining. The WEF GCI identifies three stages of development: Stage 1 (Factor-driven), Stage 2 (Efficiency-driven) and Stage 3 (Innovation-driven). Trinidad was the only Caribbean country listed as a stage 3 economy (innovation-driven). Barbados was ranked as transitioning between stages 2 and 3. Jamaica and the Dominican Republic were classified as stage 2.

Some more good news is that Jamaica saw forward movement on the index, moving to 75 out of 138 in 2016-2017 from 86 out of 140 in 2015-2016, as well as the Dominican Republic which ranked 92 out of 138 countries in 2016-2017 compared to 98 out of 140 countries in 2015-2016. The Dominican Republic’s reforms were mentioned in the report.

Importance of Country Competitiveness Indices

The WEF GCI is the most comprehensive benchmark of national competitiveness of economies worldwide. This year’s index comprised 98% of the global economy. It is, therefore, quite disappointing that not only does no Caribbean country currently rank among the top 50, but that so few Caribbean countries are included in the 2016-2017 index compared to previous indices as a result of data shortages.

These rankings are important for several reasons.The GCI is a useful tool for policy makers not only  for benchmarking the economy’s current performance  across over 100 competitiveness indicators against its historical performance, but also against other economies in the same bracket. As such, it provides good empirical evidence for setting policy priorities and interventions as national competitiveness strategies are crafted and refined.

Secondly, and importantly for small economies which depend significantly on foreign direct investment inflows, the WEF GCI is one of several indices, along with the World Bank’s Doing Business Index, which discerning investors consult when considering potential investment locations. For this reason, it is not uncommon for investment promotion agencies to reference their country’s favourable performance on these indices when marketing to prospective investors.

The Way Forward

It is axiomatic for any economy that  competitiveness should not only be long-term but sustainable. What the current WEF GCI makes clear is that economies in the Caribbean region have a lot of room for improvement, particularly in these problem areas: inefficient government bureaucracy, work ethic in the national labor force and corruption. Improving our competitiveness, however, is not a government responsibility alone. It requires continued strategic and enhanced  public-private sector collaboration and partnership.

Governments, the private sector and other stakeholders including trade unions and other civil society actors, therefore, need to closely examine the causes and solutions for these problematic areas. For example, what are the factors which contribute to the perception of “poor work ethic”? What country-level and firm-level productivity enhancing reforms are working and which need revising or implementing? What can we do improve the vexing issue of “inefficient government bureaucracy”? This year’s Global Competitiveness Report focused heavily on the Fourth Industrial Revolution. What role can ICTs play in improving our weak areas?

We can also take lessons from those economies which consistently rank as the most competitive economies and those which saw tremendous improvement. The top five economies in this year’s GCI were in order of ranking: Switzerland, Singapore, United States, Netherlands and Germany. What best practices can we learn from these countries? How about those countries like India, which made the biggest leap of any country in this year’s index by climbing 16 places? Or Mauritius, a SIDS, ranks 45th , having climbed two places? Even our own Jamaica and the Dominican Republic which saw improved rankings may hold valuable lessons.

Businesses also need to play their part. It is unacceptable that the region is so poorly represented on the GCI year after year. A few years ago, I was part of the survey team which administered the WEF  Executive Opinion Survey in Barbados, the main instrument used for gathering the data utilised in a whole suite of WEF reports, including the Global Competitiveness Report. While in each instance our team was able to meet our quota, one of the challenges we found was the unwillingness of some business executives either to participate in the survey, or to complete it properly and in a timely manner. This is after repeated attempts to impress upon them the importance of the data collected in the survey for judging Barbados’ competitiveness and to ensuring Barbados was ranked on this important index. If insufficient businesses answer the survey, the country will not be included in the index. To encourage greater private sector participation in the survey in each country, I suggest there be closer collaboration between the country partner institutes and the various private sector bodies in the countries.

The full WEF GCI 2016-2017 Report may be accessed here.

 Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Can Sports help Caribbean Countries’ Export Diversification Efforts?

Alicia Nicholls

The Brazil-hosted XXXI Summer Olympiad has come to an end with all of the panache one would expect from “a cidade maravilhosa” (the marvelous city) of Rio de Janeiro. I would be the first to admit that unlike most persons, I was not glued to the Games. However, seeing the success of Caribbean athletes, particularly the Jamaican team which can boast of having the fastest man and woman in the world for the third Olympiad in a row, made me ponder on the possibilities sports could have for Caribbean export diversification. Much of the discourse on sport as an export diversification strategy is often limited to sports tourism. However, I believe that the opportunities for sports trade go beyond simply sports tourism to encompass a wider array of sporting services which will be the focus of this article.

No longer viewed as simply pastimes and sources of entertainment and recreation, the global sports industry is a lucrative and growing one.  A study by AT Kearney found that this industry is worth $480-620 billion dollars. For an appreciation of the sheer economic scale of the recently concluded Rio Olympic Games, this article by the BBC shows there were “more than 10,000 athletes, representing 207 nations, [competing] in 31 sports in Brazil.” It is therefore little surprise why an increasing number of developing countries are exploring the ways in which the commercialisation of their sporting industries can contribute to their economic diversification efforts.

If we turn to the medal count statistics in the Rio Olympics, we see that Jamaica, a Caribbean small island developing state with a population shy of 3 million, won 11 goals (6 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze), while Jamaican sprinting legend Usain Bolt won a historic three consecutive goals in the 100m, 200m and 4x100m relay further engraving his legacy on history’s page as the fastest man on earth. Caribbean countries’ sporting prowess is not limited to athletics. The West Indies Cricket Team dominated the cricketing world for many years. Here in Barbados we can boast of Sir Garfield Sobers who is regarded internationally as “the greatest cricketer the world has ever seen”, and of being the inventors of road tennis. The raw sporting talent is obviously there so how can we convert our sports talent into economic and export opportunities?

Sports as Export Services

The  commercialisation of sporting services has been internationally recognised in trade classifications. Under the World Trade Organisation (WTO) services classification, “sporting and other recreational services” is one of the sub-sectors of Recreational, Cultural and Sporting Services (other than audiovisual services). The sub-classes of sporting services are quite limited as they only capture a narrow range of the activities currently engaged in by sporting services suppliers, namely,  sports event promotion services; sports event organisation services; sports facility operation services and other sporting services. The UNESCO Framework for Cultural Statistics considers sports as part of the cultural industries.

Caribbean countries’ existing market access and national treatment commitments in “recreational, cultural and sporting services (other than audiovisual services)” in their GATS schedules of specific commitments have been modest. This is not surprising as sporting services have not been a sector most countries have traditionally sought to liberalise. Only Cuba, Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, Trinidad & Tobago have made market access and national treatment commitments in sporting and other recreational services (CPC 964) in their GATS schedules.

Sports Tourism

When we speak of sports commercialisation in the region, our discussion tends to be limited primarily to sports tourism which involves travel to another destination for participation or observation of sporting events, sports conferences and meetings. This would be considered a services export under Mode 2 (consumption abroad). Countries around the world joust with each other to host major sporting events from the Olympics to World Cup Football. The Caribbean has had a piece of the action by successfully hosting the ICC Cricket World Cup in 2007, while also hosting several other smaller hemispheric and regional sporting events such as the Commonwealth Youth Games which the Bahamas will host in 2017.The rationale for hosting these events is not just for the immediate inflows of tourist arrivals and expenditure, but also the marketing and promotional opportunities which such intense media attention could bring.

Non-Tourism Sporting Services

Besides sports tourism, there are other possibilities for sporting services exports as the schematic below shows utilising the four modes of supply under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS):

  • Mode 1 (Cross border supply)  – from the territory of one Member into the territory of any other Member e.g: sports consultancy firm providing consulting services to clients in another country online
  • Mode 2 (Consumption Abroad) -in the territory of one Member to the service consumer of any other Member e.g : an athlete of one country attending a training facility in another country
  • Mode 3 (Commercial presence) – by a service supplier of one Member, through commercial presence, in the territory of any other Member e.g: an investor establishing a sports academy  in another country
  • Mode 4 (Movement  of Natural Persons) – by a service supplier of one Member, through the presence of natural persons of a Member in the territory of any other Member e.g: coaches providing training in another country

If we take Jamaica as a case study of sporting services exports, the country already conducts sporting services exports under Mode 4 as Jamaican coaches coach at overseas universities and training facilities. It also exports under Mode 2 as it hosts international sporting events (sports tourism) and its IAAF-funded High Performance Training Centre provides training for both Jamaican and international athletes. Unfortunately, the value of these services to the Jamaican economy is difficult to measure.

In 2013 the then Government under Prime Minister, Portia Simpson-Miller introduced the Jamaica National Sports Policy which provides a framework for the development of sport in Jamaica includes upgrades to sports infrastructure, improvements in schools’ physical sport infrastructure and tax relief for contributions to amateur sport under the Charitable Organizations (Tax Harmonization) Act 2013 and the Charities Act 2013. Jamaica is known as the Sprint Capital of the World for its prowess in athletics, adding to the strength of Brand Jamaica. This is already reaping benefits and sports is one of the sectors in which Jamaica promotes foreign investment. Besides athletics, Jamaica has also enjoyed international success in cricket, football, netball and bobsled.

Some sports-related investment already exists in the Caribbean such as in the Caribbean (Cricket) Premier League. Sports services trade through mode 3 (commercial presence) is possible through  foreign direct investment in the form of sports academies, colleges and other sports facilities which can generate foreign exchange and direct and indirect employment. However, strong regulatory and monitoring frameworks need to be in place to ensure these meet world anti-doping standards and anti-money laundering laws.

Linkages with other sectors

Sporting services can have strong linkages with, and spill-over benefits for other sectors, such as in manufacturing, health & wellness, education, research & development, and audiovisual services. According to this article in the India Times, Usain Bolt requires brands wishing to feature him in advertising campaigns to film in his home country of Jamaica to allow his country to benefit.

Conclusions

Caribbean countries have produced world-class sporting talent which far exceeds their small physical and economic sizes. There are opportunities to leverage that talent into sports services export opportunities which go beyond simply sports tourism. The current contribution of sporting services trade, such as sports festivals, to Caribbean countries’ GDPs is not being captured and remains undertapped.

One of the reasons for the paucity of data on sporting services internationally is that there is the need for the broadening and refining of the CPC classification of sporting services beyond the four currently recognised sub-classes. Better classification and measurement is needed in order to assess the current value, impact and contribution of sports trade to Caribbean countries. This data would assist in the formulation of evidence-based policies and interventions to promote the development of sports as an export diversification strategy.

The level of development of the sports industry and the policy frameworks and support structures for the development of sport varies by country across the region. Sportpersons benefit under the free movement of skilled labour under the CSME but there is no regional policy for the development of sport as an export. Sports are still not seen as a legitimate career option for many young people due to limited financing opportunities and lack of world-class training facilities in many Caribbean countries.

Alas, however, there has also been progress in the right direction. There has been the introduction of sports degrees at the University of the West Indies campuses which could also attract international students. Several Caribbean countries have introduced national sports policies and have invested in upgrading their sports infrastructure. Some have made sports tourism part of their marketing plan e.g: Barbados hosted the 2014 Top Gear Festival at its newly redeveloped Bushy Park Circuit.

If Caribbean countries are serious about commercialising their sports sectors, it is perhaps time that those countries which had not made any commitments in “sporting and other services” in their GATS schedules of specific commitments to consider taking commitments, while those which have already done so to consider  modifying the quality and number of their existing commitments. There is also the need to explore how Caribbean sports services suppliers can benefit from existing trade agreements like the CARIFORUM-EC Economic Partnership Agreement and from cooperation and funding under bilateral cooperation agreements with third states.

An evidence-based approach would allow the region to determine what incentives and public/private sector support are needed to develop sporting services trade, the human resource, infrastructure and financing constraints  being faced and what additional public and private sector support can be given to regional sportspersons and sporting bodies. In the five Caribbean countries where citizenship by investment is offered, these countries can consider the feasibility of making an investment in sport one of the options of a qualifying investment.

The good news is that while I was conducting my research for this article I stumbled across this document for a consultancy to conduct an assessment of the economic contribution of the sporting sector, especially sports tourism to the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) and the development of a Draft Regional Strategy for Sporting Services. This is a step in the right direction.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

Jamaica ratifies Trade Facilitation Agreement; WTO DG Visits Jamaica

Alicia Nicholls

Jamaica has become the  67th member country of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to ratify the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) on January 19th this year. Jamaica is the sixth country of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) to have ratified the TFA. The other CARICOM countries which have already ratified are Trinidad & Tobago, Belize, Guyana, St. Lucia and Grenada.

The TFA was concluded at the Bali Ministerial in 2013 and seeks to cut the red tape and reduce the transaction costs and delays in the movement, release and clearance of goods across borders through the harmonisation, simplification and acceleration of customs procedures.  The TFA, which the WTO predicts to increase global merchandise exports by up to 1 trillion by per year, will come into force once two-thirds of the WTO’s membership ratifies the Agreement. Earlier this month Seychelles became the 66th WTO member to ratify, while Mali this week became the 68th member and 10th African country to do so, bringing the total number of ratifications to 68.

The announcement of Jamaica’s ratification comes on the heels of the WTO Director General, Roberto Azevedo’s official visit to Jamaica this week. Jamaica is currently the chair of the CARICOM Group in the WTO and has been very active in the WTO negotiations. In his speech at the University of the West Indies’ Mona Campus in Jamaica, Director General Azevedo lauded Jamaica’s leadership and participation in the multilateral trade process from as early as the days of GATT, particularly in light of the country’s relatively small size. The Director General will also be visiting other CARICOM countries.

The ratification by Jamaica is a welcomed development and it is hoped more CARICOM states will follow suit. My article on the benefits of the TFA for small island developing states can be accessed here.

The full text of the Director General’s speech in Jamaica may be accessed here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade.  You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

 

Jamaica is new G-77 Geneva Chair

Jamaica is the new chair of the Group of 77 Geneva chapter in 2016, taking over chairmanship from the Philippines.

The G-77 is the largest intergovernmental organisation of developing countries within the United Nations system. It was established by 77 developing countries pursuant to the Joint Declaration of the 77 Developing Countries made at the conclusion of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development on June 15, 1964. Its membership has since expanded to 134 developing countries, including China.

The grouping has five chapters: Geneva, Nairobi, Paris, Rome and Vienna.

Further information may be accessed here.

Jamaica tops Anglophone Caribbean on ease of doing business in Doing Business Report 2016

Alicia Nicholls

Jamaica can boast of being ranked as the easiest place to do business among countries of the English-speaking Caribbean, according to the World Bank’s Doing Business Report 2016. Jamaica has an overall rank of 64 out of 189 economies surveyed in the report, improving seven places from a ranking of 71 last year. Jamaica was not only the highest ranked of the English speaking Caribbean countries but was second only to Puerto Rico (57) out of all Caribbean countries. Jamaica was also the only Caribbean economy ranked among the ‘top 10 improvers’ in terms of performance on the Doing Business indicators in 2014/2015.

Now in its 13th year of publication, the 2016 edition of the Report entitled ‘Measuring Regulatory Quality and Efficiency’ ranked 189 economies globally on the ease of doing business based on 10 indicators which measure and benchmark regulations which pertain to local small to medium-size enterprises throughout their life cycle. The indicators were: starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency. Although presented in the economy profiles, labor market regulation indicators are not included in the aggregate ease of doing business ranking this year.

On two of the indicators Jamaica ranked among the top 10 economies globally, namely ‘ease of starting a business’ (9) and ‘getting credit’ (7, tied with Puerto Rico). Its lowest rankings were in regards to ‘trading across borders’ (146), ‘paying taxes’ (146) and ‘registering a property’ (122).

Several reforms introduced by Jamaica during the 2014/2015 period were deemed to have made business easier including, streamlining internal procedures for starting a business,  implementing a new workflow for processing building permit applications, by encouraging taxpayers to pay their taxes online, introducing an employment tax credit, just to name a few. However, the introduction of a minimum business tax, the raising of the contribution rate for the national insurance scheme paid by employers and increased rates for stamp duty, the property tax, the property transfer tax and the education tax were viewed less favourably.

The average ranking of Caribbean economies on the ease of doing business was 104. After Jamaica (9), the next three top regional performers were St. Lucia (77), Trinidad & Tobago (88) and Dominica (91). Haiti had the lowest rank among CARICOM countries (182), followed by Grenada (135) and St. Kitts & Nevis (124). Of note is Barbados which slipped 3 places from 116 in last year’s ranking to 119 in the 2016 ranking, making it the fourth lowest ranked CARICOM economy by ease of doing business. In regards to the region as a whole, the Report commended the region’s continued “remarkable progress” on reforms to resolve insolvency, including the new insolvency laws adopted by Jamaica and St. Vincent & the Grenadines.

It should be noted that although no Caribbean country made it into the top 50 economies on the list, the region did well compared to most SIDS globally, with the notable exception of Mauritius which ranked a laudable 32. On average the Caribbean region ranked highest on ‘getting electricity’ (74), ‘starting a business’ (87) and ‘enforcing contracts’ (90), while scoring lowest in ‘registering property’ (144), ‘resolving insolvency’ (114), ‘paying taxes’ (112) and ‘getting credit’ (112). However, individual countries’ performance on each of these indicators showed great variance.

While it has its limitations, the Doing Business Report, a flagship report of the World Bank, remains one of the best comparative measures of countries’ business environments. After all, it touches on many of the indicators which companies consider when seeking to invest in a foreign market. As such these rankings are and should be used by countries across the region as a guide to measure the success of their regulatory reforms, identify strengths and weaknesses of their business environments, and compare their countries’ business environment ranking regionally, globally and over a time period as they compete which each other for global investment inflows. While Jamaica’s over all performance is praiseworthy, what these rankings demonstrate is that there still remains great room for improvement if Caribbean countries are to become globally competitive as choice destinations for doing business.

The full Doing Business 2016: Caribbean States Regional Profile may be accessed here, while the full Doing Business Report 2016 is available here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade.

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