Friday, March 21, 2003

Incentives and Labour Productivity

A previous article by Mr. Geoffrey Messado examined the need for a revision of our current incentives in order to make a more direct positive impact on labour productivity. Mr. Messado illustrated that Jamaica’s productivity increases were way behind that of similar developing countries over the period examined. The following table summarizes the productivity illustration:

Labour Productivity Increase (1960 – 1990)
Singapore - 386.6%
Barbados - 118.9%
Jamaica - 18.8%

It is therefore no wonder why we remain in an uncompetitive position in the global market, resulting in our continuing economic woes. Our labour productivity is so far behind that it seems highly improbable that we will earn our way out of our economic difficulties by utilizing our labour resources.

Over the years we have had numerous incentives, which are aimed at encouraging investments and exports. The question asked by Mr. Messado, which we need to answer is has these incentives worked and if not why not. The website of the Planning Institute of Jamaica (www.pioj.gov.jm) shows the following statistics between 1997 and 2001:


Unit 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001
Average weekly earnings of all employees (1990 J$) J$ 177.2 881.9 869.1 277.7 n/a
Exports as % GDP (current) % 21.4 19.5 18.4 18.5 17.0
Imports as % GDP (current) % 49.4 46.9 44.4 46.0 41.0
Income per capita (constant) J$000 7.5 7.4 7.3 7.4 n/a

These statistics show us a picture of our labour productivity and highlights that our current incentive schemes are not bearing the fruit we expected.

The JAMPRO website (www.investjamaica.com) categorizes incentives under the following industries:

General manufacturing
Agribusiness
Film
The Information and Communication Technology sector
Tourism

I will look at these incentives and offer some analysis on their relevance to our competitiveness. This is based on the information taken from the JAMPRO website, which I thought was most appropriate to use as this is the country’s investment promotion arm.

General Manufacturing / Textiles
The site states that the manufacturing sector employs about 90,000 persons or 9.4% of the employed labour force. The sector earned in excess of US$2 Billion in exports in the years 1993 – 1997 (the web site refers to these years as the last 5 years, which means that this site has not been updated since 1998 and this is Jamaica’s Promotion Agency), where textiles and apparel is the major revenue item. Export growth has slackened since 1996 due to trade liberalization and price stabilization. It further states that since 1993 more than US$3 Billion in consumer goods have been imported.

This shows that the sector is not competitive as trade liberalization has had an impact on the performance of this sector. What has happened is that we are producing for export markets based on special contracts etc. but not on a competitive basis and at the same time we are importing more than we export.

The incentives listed under this sector are:
1. Export Industry Encouragement Act – “To qualify under this act the manufacturer must be an exporter of manufactured products.” It further states that the business must be designed to export to earn hard currencies “therefore, the CARICOM market is not usually the focus of the exporter”.
2. Jamaica Export Free Zone Act – to qualify a manufacturer must ensure that all transactions are conducted in US currency in addition to the fact that they are located within the free zone area. Some firms outside of the free zone may qualify. To get free zone status a company must (i) be registered under the Companies Act; (ii) export at least 85% of its production, and (iii) receive an approval from the BOJ.
3. Accelerated Depreciation / Special Capital Allowance – “upon qualification, a certified business is granted a special allowance of capital expenditure for 50% of the full cost of any new machinery in the year of purchase, and a further 50% in the 2nd year.”
4. Bauxite and Alumina Industries Encouragement Act – businesses engaged in “the mining of bauxite or production of Alumina in Jamaica automatically qualify for import duty concessions on capital goods, lubricating oils, grease and other chemicals.”
5. Petroleum Refinery Encouragement Act – relates to registered oil refineries where they can import articles for construction and refinery operations duty free. They are also exempt from paying income tax or tax on dividends (this was repealed on public companies which indicates when this site was last updated) for a period of up to 7 years after which he has 6 years to carry forward net losses incurred during the period.

Agribusiness
“Investor’s who invest in Jamaica’s agricultural and agribusiness sector can benefit from the following incentives and support services:
· Approved farmer status, which guarantees income tax and import duty concessions for up to 10 years for exporters;
· Income tax relief for a specified period of time…..
· Import Duty concessions on the importation of pick-ups and trucks used exclusively for agricultural purposes.”

This sector can also benefit from the pre-clearance facility.

Film
Motion Picture Industry Encouragement Act – recognized film producer can benefit from income tax relief for a period not exceeding 9 years after the first release of a film. Can also benefit from an investment allowance of 70 per cent of total expenditure on production facilities for carry forward. May also be exempted from payment of certain import duties.

Information technology and Communication
1. Export Free Zone Act – allows “tax exemptions. Duty free import, repatriation of earnings, and minimized customs procedures for companies” operating in designated Free Zones.
2. Export Industry Encouragement Act – “provides duty free importation of raw materials and capital goods, and a tax holiday on profits for 10 years.”
3. Moratorium on Duties – “allows investors without free zone status to pay their import duties over an average two year period.”
4. Telecommunications – “companies in the IT sector can with Single Entity Free Zone status can apply for licences to provide their own telecommunications.”
5. Training – companies can benefit from training grants.
6. Accelerated Depreciation / Special Capital Allowances

Tourism
1. The Hotel Incentives Act – 10 – 15 years income tax and duty relief is available to new and existing hotels under this act.
2. The Resort Cottages Incentives Act – under this act up to 7 years relief from income tax and import duty can be obtained by resort cottages.

If these incentives offer such an attraction to investors such as training assistance, income tax, duty relief and accelerated depreciation, why then has there not been a flood of investments coming to Jamaica? Why is our trade deficit growing and we are becoming increasingly more uncompetitive?

1. A look at the incentives above reveals that there are some inherent problems with them. Mr. Messado stated that there needs to be a clear set of guidelines existing to create an objective measurement for qualification. Bureaucracy and subjective measures must be removed in order to allow businesses to have a realistic expectation of qualification.
2. JAMPRO may also do a great job of communicating these incentives overseas but how much is known about these incentives locally?
3. The incentives frequently refer to export earnings as a means of qualifying, while at the same time that we focus on export earnings imports are rising at a faster rate. What is the sense of increasing export earnings if all we are doing is sending our current production of goods and services overseas and consuming more imports locally? Mr. Messado pointed out that the best period for labour productivity was between 1954 and 1969 when the emphasis was on import substitution. It is obvious that the current incentives are only addressing a part of the equation as shown by the amount of imported produce at more competitive prices than our local produce. The JAMPRO web site states that “the CARICOM market is not usually the focus of this exporter”. This is said even though Trinidadian products can be found in great quantities within the region. I would never have thought that US$ earnings from CARICOM is of any less significance than those earned in the US. We can also be more competitive in these markets because of the CARICOM agreements.
4. It seems also that Jamaica needs to provide many incentives because our present business environment is not friendly to the investor. Having to provide so many tax breaks and grants is saying to the investor that we are in a hostile business environment and therefore we need to provide incentives for you to invest. This suggests that our business environment is not suitable for competitive business practices globally. What then of those businesses that do not qualify for any incentives?
5. The granting of incentives in specific industries almost gives the government a hand in determining which sectors do well and which do not. Government has to get out of the business of industry building through incentives on a sustained basis. The private sector should pick winners not the government. If the business environment and opportunities are right then investments will happen. One reason that the incentives nay not be working is because enterprises with the best returns are outside of the industries qualifying for incentives. These incentives have been around for a while and the environment has been constantly changing.
6. The incentives do not encourage productivity but rather deals with general objectives such as total exports. Additionally, it does not even measure a quantum of exports but rather a relationship to local production. Although a company exports it may be lose money, but as long as the investment has already been made then it will continue to operate while covering its variable costs. Incentives may even make the business profitable in the short to medium term but at the point of retooling the numbers may not add up. Therefore the present incentives may not encourage sustained investments.

Government needs to re-examine the current incentives and determine what objectives they are trying to achieve. Once identified (should be sustained long term growth) then they need to identify incentives and shape them around those objectives. This means that incentives need to be constantly under the microscope to meet any changing objectives. The fact is that the current incentives are not geared towards addressing productivity. Labour in Jamaica is extremely unproductive. Apart from being unproductive the cost of that labour is too high, that is terms of the value it provides. The ten percent in taxes that employers have to pay to employ labour is prohibitive as is the cost of replacing labour with more productive methods (i.e. redundancy payments). Additionally, the low skill and education level of labour in Jamaica can only attract industries where labour is compensated at minimum levels.

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