Economic studies
Jamaica

Jamaica

Population 2,814 million
GDP 5052 US$
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Country risk assessment
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Synthesis

major macro economic indicators

   2014 2015  2016 2017*(p)
GDP growth (%) 0.5 1.0 1.5 2.0
Inflation (yearly average) (%) 8.2 3.6 4.4 5.2
Budget balance (% GDP) -0.4 -0.2 -0.6 0.2
Current account balance (% GDP) -7.7 -3.4 -3.3 -3.6
Public debt (% GDP) 136.7 120.3 118.8 111.1

 

(e) Estimate (f) Forecast

Fiscal year: 1 April to 31 March   

STRENGTHS

  • Natural resources (bauxite, sugar, bananas, coffee) and tourism
  • Financial support from multilateral institutions
  • Substantial remittances from the diaspora
  • Stable democratic framework

WEAKNESSES

  • Poorly diversified economy
  • Vulnerability to external shocks (climate, US economy, commodities)
  • Very high public debt and debt interest payments inhibiting growth
  • High crime rate and poverty levels

Risk assessment

Favourable outlook for growth driven by dynamic private consumption

Jamaica's growth rate has been relatively modest, affected, in particular, by weak internal demand (consumption and investment), inhibited by the policy of fiscal austerity implemented by the government for the past few years and by high unemployment levels (around 13%). In 2016, activity benefited, however, from momentum in the tourism sector and good performances in the agricultural sector. In 2017, growth is expected to improve thanks to an expected rise in private consumption, which will be boosted by the raising of the income tax threshold, which according to the government will enable 120,000 Jamaican workers to be exempted from this tax. With regard to external trade, exports of bauxite and aluminium are likely to be hit by weak metal prices, although these will be partially offset by a projected increase in the sugar price on international markets. Growth potential will, meanwhile, continue to be weighed down by infrastructure shortcomings, weak productivity associated with the poorly qualified workforce, as well as by the high crime rate. Inflation is set to rise because of robust internal demand and an increase, though modest, in the oil price.

 

Fiscal austerity policy to continue despite the abolition of tax for lower-income households

The new government, in place since February 2016, has promised to continue the fiscal austerity policy begun in 2013 in return for IMF aid. Thanks to the progress already made on stabilising the economy, the IMF approved a new Stand-by-Arrangement (SBA) in November 2016 for a total of USD 1.64 billion valid for 3 years from 2017. Although fiscal consolidation would seem essential for reducing the public debt, the level of which puts Jamaica among the ten most indebted countries in the world, the government apparently wants to spare the poorest of its population. Accordingly, it passed an act to abolish income tax for the lowest-income households (up to 1.5 million Jamaican dollars/year). This measure entered into force in July 2016 for households with incomes of up to JMD 1 million/year. The second wave of exemptions is scheduled for April 2017. The earnings loss in terms of the State's tax receipts is expected to be partially offset by higher taxes (of between 25% and 30%) on households with incomes above JMD 6 million/year. The government is also relying on higher taxes on fuel and tobacco, bringing down civil service salaries to 9% of GDP by 2017 (compared with 10.1% of GDP in 2015) and better tax collection thanks to measures to simplify the tax system. The government has meanwhile underlined the country's commitment to cutting the public debt ratio to below 100% of GDP by 2019-20.

 

Slightly larger current account deficit driven by higher energy imports

Jamaica's current account deficit has improved sharply since 2015, thanks in particular to a reduction in the energy bill, lower imported oil prices and higher remittances from emigrants living mostly in the United States. In 2017, the deficit is projected to increase slightly, driven by the increase, though modest, in energy prices. The depreciation of the local currency against the dollar is, however, expected to contribute to greater export competitiveness in the agricultural sector, where production is expected to recover following the fading of the El Nino weather phenomenon. The balance of services is still expected to benefit from the dynamism of the tourism sector and of transfers and remittances by expatriate workers.

 

A year after his election, the prime minister remains very popular

After narrowly winning the 2016 general election held on 25 February 2016 with 33 seats out of 63 won by members of the Jamaican Labour Party (JLP), Prime Minister Andrew Holness remains very popular. One of the reasons for his success is the effective delivery of his key campaign promise to abolish income tax on lower-income households without losing the IMF's financial support. On the geopolitical level, the government is expected to favour relations with the United States, the country's main trading partner and source of remittances from expatriate workers. The government is also likely to concentrate its efforts on regional co-operation to fight against drug trafficking and crime levels, which affect the business climate because of the significant related costs these generate for businesses.

 

Last update: January 2017

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