(Jamaica Gleaner) Jamaica is on the cusp of reaping the benefits of expanded relations with China after Thursday’s signing of a landmark memorandum of understanding set to be the launching pad of ramped-up investment and trade between the two nations.
First announced in 2013, Beijing has touted the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as an international development strategy through which China seeks to leverage partnerships in a buildout of its economic and geopolitical power.
Tian Qi, the Chinese ambassador to Jamaica, said that the signing of the memorandum of understanding on the BRI would raise the level of bilateral cooperation to a higher bar.
“This signing is hugely significant, and it now opens up a new era for cooperation between Jamaica and the People’s Republic of China,” he said.
Jamaica now joins several Caribbean countries to ink an agreement with China for this initiative, which has brought targeted investment through many construction and service-oriented projects.
Over the past decade, Sino-Jamaican relations have warmed, leading to billions of dollars in investment in road construction, sugar and bauxite production, as well as grants and aid. Jamaica currently owes China $79 billion, which represents about four per cent of the Government’s $2-trillion debt. Private-sector entities have also tapped Chinese advantage in economies of scale in major high-rise construction.
The Chinese have done much of the heavy lifting in major infrastructure projects, through China Harbour Engineering Company, spearheading cross-island road-network development from the Legacy Projects of Kingston in the east to the Ferris to Mackfield initiative of Westmoreland in the west. After completing the North-South Highway, the South Coast Highway and Montego Bay bypass are next on the Chinese agenda.
Qi noted that the soon-to-be-constructed 220-bed Western Children’s Hospital in Montego Bay was also a symbol of deepening integration.
Also known as the One Belt One Road, the BRI is the Chinese government’s 21st-century spin on the ancient maritime silk route, promoting infrastructure development and investments in 152 countries and international organisations in Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, Middle East, and Africa.
“Now that we have signed this agreement, we will have more preferential arrangement for our common development. That means all the projects, no matter if it’s contracted by a Chinese company or Jamaican company, all of them will enjoy more preferential financing, and more support from the Governments,” Qi told The Gleaner, though not offering details on the workings of the partnership.
By some estimates, China’s BRI will add approximately US$117 billion to global trade, and while not quantifying in dollars the likely fillip to the domestic economy, Qi is insisting that Jamaica will benefit big time.
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Kamina Johnson Smith noted that the pact represents another positive development in the longstanding relationship between the two countries.
“Our relationship has been built on the principle of mutual respect, a shared commitment to responsible growth and development, as well as a common desire to positively impact the lives of our citizens,” she said at the signing ceremony.
“By doing so, we join over 100 other countries and international organisations that have also decided to cooperate within the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative,” the minister stated.