- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 7, 2010

JAMAICA MAKING IT

The new ambassador from Jamaica means business, literally.

Ambassador Audrey P. Marks is a rare public official in Washington. She actually knows how to create jobs. As one of the Caribbean’s most accomplished business executives before she became a diplomat in May, Mrs. Marks employed more than 400 workers in a corporation that made more than $40 billion a year.

Her message to American entrepreneurs interested in the warm trade winds of the islands is simple: If they intend to invest in the Caribbean, make it Jamaica.

“Jamaica is at a very interesting turning point,” she told Embassy Row in a recent interview.

The ruling Labor Party of Prime Minister Bruce Golding is promoting pro-growth policies and slashing the region’s third-highest debt as a ratio of gross domestic product, she said. The ambassador said the government has cut the debt by 700 billion Jamaican dollars, about $8 billion U.S.

“It was very difficult to even access capital,” Mrs. Marks said of the years before the Golding government took over in 2007.

Now, the business climate is so good that she jokes about missing potential profits in the private sector.

“I’m getting so excited. I told him I might be coming back sooner,” she said, referring to light-hearted banter with Mr. Golding.

Some skeptical observers do not share Mrs. Marks’ enthusiasm about the new direction of a country long associated with failed socialist governments and crime, especially drug trafficking. Mrs. Marks said the government is tackling the drug crisis by going after drug lords, who mostly base their operations in the capital, Kingston. She cited a 42 percent reduction in crime under the Golding administration.

The 2010 Index of Economic Freedom, compiled by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal, rates Jamaica 57 among 183 countries surveyed for pro-business policies.

“Jamaica has implemented reforms to develop its private sectors,” the report said. “The economy scores very high in investment freedom and business freedom.”

However, it added the “significant corruption and relatively high government spending” continue to drag its economic recovery.

Mrs. Marks operated six other businesses including a banana farm, a transportation company and a real estate firm before founding Paymaster (Jamaica) Limited, which handles bill payments and remittances. As an entrepreneur, she sometimes finds herself impatient with the pace of diplomacy.

“When you are in the business culture, you are big on outcomes,” she said. “Once you make decisions, you can implement them right away.

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