>>Good morning and welcome to Global Perspectives.
From our studio, I'm David Dumke.
Today we are joined by Ambassador Audrey Marks, who is the ambassador of Jamaica to Washington, D.C..
Welcome to the show, Ambassador.
>>It's my pleasure to be here.
Thank you for having me.
>>So there's a number of questions you want to ask.
Obviously, Jamaica is a very important neighbor of Florida.
And I want to ask about what's going on in Jamaica.
But I want to start with the question: An economy that's so heavily dependent on tourism like Jamaica.
How did the country fare during the COVID period?
>>We were devastated.
You know, just before COVID.
Jamaica started to really turn around in terms of its economy because for many years before that, in fact, just around 2012, 2013, Jamaica was being seen almost as a basket case in terms of the our economic situation, years of spending more than we were earning.
We had a debt to GDP of 149%, you know, high unemployment.
Our fiscal and monetary policies were not strong.
And we started to turn a turn around in about I started a new program with the IMF in 2013, 2014, I think it was.
And we stayed with the program through two administrations between 2013 to 2019.
And we were starting to see the results.
In 2019, we had cut the debt to GDP to around 100%, lowest unemployment in 50 years.
All the macro economic indicators were lining up and the in fact, the IMF and the international financial institutions started to hold up Jamaica as a model case of fiscal responsibility and a great turn around.
But COVID happened.
We are in the tourism-dependent country, so we were where our, you know, our GDP got out, got hit and hit badly.
And of course, you had to keep spending because of the needs of the more vulnerable in the population when everything closes down.
So we we but was managed well, in fact last week the Financial Times did an article on Jamaica, which we showed how we managed the COVID, COVID disaster in terms of the economy very well.
And now we are actually on a fast track again to fast track to get back to a steady growth where we are recovering nicely.
That is what I can say.
>>Are you back to where you were?
Will that still take take a couple of years?
>>We are close.
Our tourism industry has rebounded.
It just put now just about back to where we were.
And so the entire economy is moving, is recovering nicely and we are moving in the right direction.
>>I should mention for our viewers, your background was in business originally.
>>And you have now this is your third tenure as ambassador to to Washington with dealing with three different presidents, which I think is pretty, pretty interesting and unusual for diplomats.
>>In Washington in particular.
So I wanted to ask you, what are the key challenges that you have in working in Washington today and how have those changed over the years?
You started the first your first time in 2010.
How have the challenges changed and how have they stayed the same?
>>So I started in 2010, and in many ways it was a specific assignment at that time.
Jamaica had a situation with Jamaica, as you know, is literally a perfect transshipment location where Jamaica is located between North and South America.
And unfortunately, it is used not only for that that location is used not only for legitimate business, but also for illegal activities such as drugs going from Latin America into North America.
The US's one of the biggest consumer of illegal drugs, unfortunately, and then guns coming from the U.S. back to Latin Americans.
And sometimes we get caught in that transshipment or transnational criminal gangs and cartels that operate along that road.
So we in in 2010, we had a situation where there was an alleged drug lord who the US and Jamaica had extradition negotiations on.
And I was I was really called at that time to to assist in those negotiations and address the situation that was impacting our normal great bilateral relationship.
It started out, you know, challenging, but we gradually got back to to where we were in terms of a great relationship within two years at a time.
President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton.
And we we was just great.
And after, after and then I went back to Jamaica, actually, and came back in 2016.
And at that time, President Trump was in office and I dealt with President Trump or on on his administration on June 20, 2020.
And then I was reappointed and shortly after the administration changed again to President Biden and his administration.
During this time, I think the biggest challenge in coming back is that the first time I had a particular focus on the relationship.
This time it's a wider focus on building the bilateral relationship, but also engaging with our diaspora and also looking for investment opportunities.
And on the bilateral front, sometimes that can be challenging as a small country to get the the attention of the U.S.
When I first came they had an interest in Jamaica, so I was getting a lot of attention.
>>Because not necessarily for a great reason.
>>But to utilize that attention to do other things.
In terms of what I know what you want.
Now, let us discuss what we want.
The second time around, I wasn't in a favored or a particularly interesting situation to get automatic attention.
So you have to build that interest in in Washington where there are so many competing priorities and countries.
So that was that's kind of a shift that I've seen where it's more competitive to get the US attention on bilateral matters in the Caribbean because, you know, the Middle East now Ukraine, there are always other areas, Latin America and there are challenges with democracy and human rights.
There are always areas that draw, you know, we suck in the arrow in terms of immediate priorities.
>>With the Biden administration in particular, is there a foe?
Is there an intense focus on trade or is it in is it in other aspects of the bilateral relationship?
So our priority, you know, priority areas, there are three priority areas.
One, the the energy, the cost of energy that is coming out of the situation with Russia and Ukraine war.
And so we are looking at how we can have more collaboration to have more affordable energy in the region.
And so that's a priority discussion that is going on now and also it was two weeks ago, the US administration agreed, came up with an agreement with with Trinidad and Tobago, one of our the few really Caribbean countries where natural gas and oil is produced.
And so they they now have approval to work with certain entities in Venezuela in a way that can produce oil for the region or just supplement the region's energy needs.
And so that's a that's a big area for us.
A food security, because this is for is is impacted by the war also.
And the third unusual area is climate change and resilience building, because entire economies get devastated with one hurricane in the Caribbean and sometimes because we are seen as middle income countries.
The climate financing options are very limited for the region.
So we are looking at how we can change from just looking at income levels to more put in place more of a vulnerability index in terms of how we are treated for financing purposes.
And we have the usual area of of security.
>>Within the Caribbean region.
How much cooperation is there?
And you mentioned Trinidad and Tobago.
How much cooperation is regional cooperation is there on things such as energy and emergency response, disaster-- >>Great cooperation.
In fact, as we speak, the CARICOM, the CARICOM, which is the Caribbean grouping of countries for trade and security and other areas, they are meeting today all the leaders just again making sure that we work together on the major priority areas for the region.
So it's a very strong relationship.
It's it's a union Now, this has been going on for a number of years and we advocate for each other in the Caribbean.
>>Do you see that cooperation strengthening, especially as we see, you know, more prominence given to climate change issues and the result of not addressing climate change and resilience?
>>Yeah, the yes, we will be.
We are we have all agreed that this is a priority area for us.
And so we we will continue to be an area where we we have strong collaboration.
>>And the American role in that cooperation because-- >>Yes.
And as you know, the Biden administration, they have put an emphasis on trying to diversify energy supplies.
So they they are that their interest is also to encourage the Caribbean, which because we are we should be naturally, you know, have some amount of energy independence with our continuous levels of sunshine.
So they are they are looking at how to encourage the Caribbean to build more renewable energy sources, but also to ensure that we have more resiliency so that in the event of a disaster, a hurricane or anything like that, we will recover much quicker.
>>And financing has been the chief obstacle?
>>And financing has been a major obstacle, so that there is now a review of that going on.
It's been led actually by the prime minister from Barbados, Prime Minister Markley.
>>You mentioned-- >>On behalf of all their CARICOM countries.
>>You mentioned the price of gas and how energy has become.
It's always been important, but now become much more prominent because that's created a global inflation cycle.
>>That hits everyone.
And I think it's lost in a lot of people.
>>The impact of war in one place.
>>Were so integrated.
You know, it's an integrated world and both energy and food, you know, which which is no caus >>With these issues such as this, though, and inflation causing, you know, because of food security issues and energy security issues cause because of this war, what can a small country like Jamaica do on its own, or does that make diplomacy all the more important?
>>Yeah, well, it certainly certainly makes diplomacy is very important because you have to collaborate so much more with your other countries to to find ways to work together to, you know, get get sometimes more affordable supplies or more timely supplies.
And also for countries like Jamaica, we get more aid in certain areas, but it's also put in to put a focus on the priority on, on small countries managing their financials better in terms of being able to maintain a bit more discipline in in managing our economies.
And I think Jamaica has really taken up that challenge and doing very well in that area.
Still a challenge, but we're making good progress.
>>Well, you were you were talking about how your economic reforms had been paying off before COVID.
>>Is the concern always in in Jamaica, because the margins are here in a small country, the margins are much narrower.
So you have a situation, whether it's a major natural disaster or a global pandemic.
>>That affect an otherwise good economic forum.
Is there is there a worry always that you're going to get taken off track by issues that are really of your you're not responsible for starting them, but you have to have to react to them.
So so more than it be now worry.
It's always a consideration that you have to budget for.
You have to be prepared in your planning process that these disasters will happen, which we didn't really plan for, like the pandemic.
But generally you prepare for some amount of contingency just as if you're doing your business.
So generally we we expect that there will be some hits along the way to a well done budget or plan and and prepare for that every now and then.
So, you know, you have something like what happened over the last three years that will throw you off even more.
So the key is really managing and knowing how to pivot to get back on track.
Another aspect of your job that you mentioned earlier was working with the diaspora.
So I want to ask you about that experience.
How do you go about doing that?
I mean, people will always come to the embassy, I imagine, if they have problems.
>>But I would imagine you have a reputation of being proactive on these things.
So how do you go about serving Jamaican citizens living in the United States?
>>Yes, Jamaica is very fortunate in terms of the relationship that we have with the members of the Jamaican diaspora.
We have been Jamaicans have been migrating here in large numbers since the 1920s.
And, you know, initially from the farm work program from 1920s, I think was coming out of the Panama Canal and then lived to 1930s, 40s the farm worker program.
And then we in the 1950s, 60s the US has had various programs for recruit for to encourage immigration to the US.
You know nurses, doctors, students, teachers and so over the last a hundred years now almost a hundred years we we now see where we we have just about 3 million persons who will identify as Jamaican Americans here.
And we also have very well developed organizations, Jamaican American associations.
So the job is was not very difficult in terms of connecting because of the the structure of the Jamaican diaspora.
And it is not actually the usual thing.
Many of the countries don't have organized diaspora.
So we have been very blessed with that.
Jamaicans that have they may have been away for a year as 20, 30 or 40 years.
They still remain passionate about what is happening in the country.
Now that's good.
That's also bad because I get asked so, asked so many more questions about what is happening and why are you not doing X, Y, and Z?
So but we are blessed by the passion and the care, and that has also contributed to our economy because persons here who have relatives in Jamaica have continued to support relatives and persons have also gained the expertise from living in the United States.
And have come back to Jamaica and have contributed intellectual capital to our development.
So it has our diaspora very, very important to us.
We have a large diaspora here in Florida, not as much probably in central Florida.
We have maybe a few hundred here in Orlando, but more in South Florida and a million in the New York Tri-State area.
So we have a large number of Jamaican Americans here.
I'm very involved also in public life and in the professions.
So we we see ourselves as part of the fabric we see and Jamaican Americans as part of the fabric of the United States.
And many are very, very appreciative, grateful for the opportunities that this country has provided in terms of changing their lives.
Well, this leads leads in many ways.
Next question I want to ask about, which is about cultural diplomacy and what an embassy or the Jamaican government in general has done to promote Jamaica and the United States and to make it stand out as opposed to other other small countries?
You know, Jamaica, we are very blessed in terms of having a strong global culture.
You know, from the early days of Marcus Garvey, who came here preaching black, black independence in a way, and that gathered a large following in the United States.
And we have had other teachers and leaders in that in that era.
And then we have had, you know, global icons and ambassadors like Bob Marley for the reggae origins are tremendous influence in the world.
Then we have our sports influence and the Usain Bolts of the world.
So Jamaica for a small country we our brand Jamaica is already the seventh most known brand in the world.
So it makes it easier for us at the embassy to capitalize on our brand recognition and for outreach and to build more cultural diplomacy, which usually involves finding ways to to have events or to be involve in ways that will build brand Jamaica.
And because of that, existing familiarity, it has been very easy to reach out to Americans for collaboration in doing cultural events.
>>How much - to what extent is your tourism industry reliant on American visitors to pose as opposed to visitors from elsewhere in the world?
>>American visitors are over 50% of all visitors to Jamaica.
So it's a very, very important market.
We are just an hour and 20 minutes from from Miami.
So it's an easy, easy, easy flight.
And so we we value the proximity and the fact that we we - so many Americans, see Jamaica as an as a near shore destination to go out and relax and have a great vacation, to see some of the whitest sand theyll ever see the blue seas and its great food.
So we are blessed with that, with our location in that respect.
And Americans for over the years have loved coming to Jamaica for their vacation and continues to be a strong market for us.
>>Of course, one of the reasons here in central Florida is looking at opportunities in the tourism industry in terms of of academic collaboration with University of Central Florida, as well as a large program there.
Is it a challenge for the government to make sure that your tourism industry stays on top?
It's been an industry leader for a long time, but with that there also can be complacency at times with an industry that's already well established.
>>Do you see complacency or do you see a constant?
>>You know, the tourism business is so competitive, You know, we are in the Caribbean and there are other beautiful countries around.
So it is one area and that we put a priority on remaining competitive and remaining alert to the needs of the travelers, the customers.
And so we - and thats why I'm so excited about this potential collaboration with the University of Central Florida.
I was most impressed when I met with the team in Washington, and thank you for coming to Washington and hereing the strides that university, the UCF that has been made in such a short time, you know, for many universities in the United States to get any sort of ranking in the top ten of any field, you have been around for a long time.
You're barely now 60 years, I think.
And, you know, I think there's a say, saying that life begins at 60.
So you're still a baby in the field of tertiary education.
But have just made such strides, especially with the the the hospitality program.
So I was very excited to visit and to see how we can collaborate between this number one school in this area and with our number one industry.
And I see great opportunities for exchange programs and we are looking forward to our country to continue to do a continued communication and collaboration with UCF.
So I will be around the coming back.
>>So well, so this is this is more of a lighter question in some ways, but maybe maybe there are some heavy elements, too.
You speak to a lot of groups.
>>In the United States about Jamaica.
Not all of them are that informed about Jamaica.
So if you're talking to a group.
What are what are say, three of the things you'd like them to know about Jamaica, assuming that all they know is that this is a place that's great for tourism.
Bob Marley, Usain Bolt cult-- some some cultural aspects, but there's not really firm knowledge of Jamaica today.
What are the three things you want people to remember to know?
>>See, I guess the top three.
I could give ten, but let me see top three first.
And one purpose is to know that Jamaica is nearshore, a country that is very similar to United States in terms of our respect for law and order and democracy and, you know, celebration of people.
So I think Americans would be really comfortable coming to Jamaica just because of the similarity of all of us as peoples.
And the second thing we have that is not as usually known we have great food, our Jamaican cuisine is one that from all the events that I've done around the United States with different in different areas of the United States, we have gotten a really great response.
Most people know about our jerk jerk products, but just a wide variety of the Jamaican cuisine is usually very attractive.
And I want to encourage persons to go to Jamaica and and check that out.
But importantly, as a businessperson, there are tremendous opportunities to do business in Jamaica and I'd want persons who are looking, businesspeople who are looking to expand.
I feel that sometimes American and Americans have given up room in the Americas to, you know, other countries as far away as China or or wherever to to to have the the the market that should be much easier for Americans to to to be involved in.
So I want to encourage the Caribbean area itself have just about 40 million people.
So there's a good market there and said want to invite business persons also to to look at Jamaica as a near shore destination that you can then do business with that will also take care of a lot of the immediate problems that American companies are having now with with the lack of the supply chain.
>>So we are nearshore is English speaking, friendly, hardworking, beautiful.
>>And you can eat well, too.
>>Well Ambassador Audrey Marks.
A pleasure to have you on today.
Thank you for taking the time to join us.
>>It is my pleasure to be here.
Thank you so much for having me, David.
>>And thank you for joining us.
We'll see you again next week on another episode of Global Perspectives.