Executive Summary

The Government of Jamaica (GOJ) considers foreign direct investment (FDI) a key driver for economic growth and in recent years has undertaken macroeconomic reforms that have improved its investment climate. However, the reform program was stymied by measures implemented to contain the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. An early lockdown in the Spring of 2020 helped contain the number of Covid-19 cases but the impact on the economy was severe, with real GDP shrinking by 10 percent. To mitigate the impact of the pandemic on public health and the economy, the authorities suspended the fiscal rule for a year and swiftly implemented public health measures and a fiscal package to support jobs and protect the most vulnerable segments of the population. The downturn and the fiscal package resulted in a fiscal deficit of 3.1 percent of GDP in FY2020/21.

The Jamaican economy contracted during fiscal year (FY) 2020/21, underpinned by a near collapse in tourism and travel and weaker disposable incomes. But unlike previous shocks, the country did not experience the usual bouts of macroeconomic instability, suggesting the past decade of economic and legislative reforms are beginning to bear fruit. The Jamaican economy is also recovering from the effects of the pandemic well ahead of regional peers, with economic growth of 7-9 percent projected for FY 2021/22. Robust construction activities, a strong rebound in tourist arrivals, and record remittances, both mostly from the United States, provided the impetus for growth. The expansion in economic activity spurred a rebound in employment, with the unemployment rate falling to a historic low of 7.1 percent. The economic recovery combined with strong fiscal management allowed the government to generate the primary surplus required to reverse the debt to GDP ratio, which is expected to return to the pre-pandemic levels. The economic turnaround also contributed to a general improvement in business and consumer confidence. Notwithstanding, inflation and inflationary expectations are beginning to threaten stability, forcing the central bank to tighten monetary policy.

On March 09, 2022, Fitch Ratings Agency affirmed Jamaica’s Long-Term Foreign Currency Issuer Default Rating (IDR) at ‘B+’ and assigned a stable outlook. Fitch reported that Jamaica’s ‘B+’ rating was supported by a favorable business climate and government efforts to lower the debt to GDP ratio. The agency explained that the country remained susceptible to external shocks, low growth levels, high public debt and a debt composition that exposes the country to exchange rate fluctuations and interest rate hikes. “The Stable Outlook is supported by Fitch’s expectation that having been interrupted by the pandemic, a downward trend in public debt-to-GDP will be underpinned by political consensus to maintain a high primary surplus,” the agency continued.

Jamaica received $366 million in FDI in 2020 (latest available data), a $299 million drop over the previous year. Despite the decline, data from the 2021 UNCTAD World Investment Report showed that Jamaica was the highest FDI destination in the English-Speaking Caribbean. China and Spain were the major drivers of FDI in 2020. Up to the onset of COVID-19, tourism, mining, and energy led investment inflows into the island. Though hard hit by the global pandemic, tourism and mining continued to drive foreign investment. Mineral and Chemicals investments also picked up in 2020. There is a significant host government commitment to mining, tourism, and airport development, which could resume when economic conditions improve. Business process outsourcing (BPO), including customer service and back-office support, continued to attract local and overseas investment. Investments in improved air, sea, and land transportation have reduced time and costs for transporting goods and have created opportunities in logistics.

Jamaica’s high crime rate, corruption, and comparatively high taxes have stymied its investment prospects. The country’s Transparency International corruption perception ranking improved marginally from 74 (2019) to 69 (2020) out of 180 countries. Despite laws that prescribe criminal penalties for corrupt acts by officials, there were still reports of corruption at some ministries and agencies. Measures implemented to address crime continued into 2021, including the continuation of Zones of Special Operations in several high crime areas of the island. While these efforts resulted in lower rates of serious crime in the attendant zones, the measures did not significantly impact the overall murder rate, and Jamaica continues to have one of the highest homicide rates in the world.

With energy prices a major component of the cost of doing business, the government has instituted a number of policies to address the structural impediment. In early 2020, the government published its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), outlining the country’s electricity roadmap for the next two decades. The plan, which has been delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, projected 1,164 MW of new generation capacity at a cost of $7.3 billion, including fuel cost and the replacement of retired plants. Renewable sources are projected to generate 50 percent of electricity by 2037, with Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), introduced in 2016, providing the lion’s share of the other 50 percent. The increased investment in new generation is expected to increase efficiency and reduce the price of electricity to consumers.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 70 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview 
Global Innovation Index 2021 29.6 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator 
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2019 USD 145 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/ 
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 USD 4,670 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD 

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

The Government of Jamaica (GoJ) is open to foreign investment in all sectors of the economy. The GOJ made significant structural changes to its economy, under International Monetary Fund (IMF) guidance during the six-year period to 2019, resulting in an improved investment environment. Since 2013, Jamaica’s Parliament passed numerous pieces of legislation to improve the business environment and support economic growth through a simplified tax system and broadened tax base. The establishment of credit bureaus and a Collateral Registry under the Secured Interest in Personal Property (SIPP) legislation are improving access to credit. Jamaica made starting a business easier by consolidating forms and made electricity less expensive by reducing the cost of external connection works. The GOJ implemented an electronic platform for the payment of taxes and established a 90-day window for development approvals.

The GOJ amended its public procurement regime with effect from April 2019, to include provisions for domestic margins of preference, affording preferential treatment to Jamaican suppliers in public contracts in some circumstances, and setting aside a portion of the government’s procurement budget for local micro, small, and medium enterprises. Notwithstanding, U.S. businesses are encouraged to participate in GOJ open procurements, many of which are published in media and via the government’s electronic procurement website: https://www.gojep.gov.jm/epps/home.do .

Jamaica’s commitment to regulatory reform is an intentional effort to become a more attractive destination for foreign investment. According to the World Bank’s “Doing Business 2020” report, Jamaica ranked 71 out of 190 economies, above average compared to Latin American and Caribbean countries. The country improved or held firm on all metrics assessed in the 2020 report, moving most significantly in the area registering property. The GoJ replaced the Ad Valorem Stamp Duty rate payable on the registration of collateral, such as property used to secure loan instruments, with a flat rate duty. Additionally, the transfer tax, payable on the change of ownership from one person to another, was also reduced during the year from five to two percent. Jamaica is ranked 80 out of 141 countries in the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Index. Bureaucracy remains a major impediment, with the country continuing to underperform in the areas of trading across borders, paying taxes, and enforcing contracts.

Jamaica’s trade and investment promotion agency, Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO), is the GOJ agency responsible for promoting business opportunities to local and foreign investors. While JAMPRO does not institute general criteria for FDI, the institution targets specific sectors for investment and promotes Jamaican exports (see http://www.jamaicatradeandinvest.org/ ).

JAMPRO and the Jamaica Business Development Corporation assist micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSME) primarily through business facilitation and capacity building. MSMEs tend to consist of less than 10 employees. Such fee-based services would be made available to foreign-owned MSMEs (see https://www.jbdc.net/ ).

All private entities, foreign and domestic, are entitled to establish and own business enterprises, as well as to engage in all forms of remunerative activity subject to, inter alia, labor, registration, and environmental requirements.  Jamaica does not impose limits on foreign ownership or control and local laws do not distinguish between local and foreign investors.  There are no sector-specific restrictions that impede market access.  A 2017 amendment to the Companies Act requires companies to disclose beneficial owners to the Companies Office of Jamaica (ORC).  The law mandates that the company retain records of legal and beneficial owners for seven years.  The GOJ proposed new legislation on the incorporation and operation of International Business Companies (IBC), which is designed to attract and facilitate a wide variety of international business activities to include: (1) holding companies providing asset protection for intellectual property rights, real property, and the shares of other companies; (2) serving as vehicles for licensing and franchising; (3) conducting international trade, and investment activities; (4) acting as special purpose vehicles in international financial transactions; and, (5) serving as the international headquarters for global companies.  

The U.S. government is not aware of any discrimination against foreign investors at the time of initial investment or after the investment is made.  However, under the Companies Act, investors are required to either establish a local company or register a branch office of a foreign-owned enterprise.  Branches of companies incorporated abroad must register with the Registrar of Companies if they intend to operate in Jamaica.  There are no laws or regulations requiring firms to adopt articles of incorporation or association that limit or prohibit foreign investment, participation, or control.  Post is not aware of any formal screenings that exist for foreign investments.  Incentives are available to local and foreign investors alike, including various levels of tax relief.

Jamaica concluded a third-party trade policy review through the WTO in September 2017.  The WTO Secretariat’s recommendations are listed here: https://www.wto.org/english/tratop_e/tpr_e/tp459_e.htm 

Jamaica has not undertaken any investment policy reviews within the last three years in conjunction with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).  The GOJ’s previous WTO review took place in 2017 and an OECD review took place in 2004. 

No domestic or foreign civil society organizations have provided useful reviews of investment policy-related concerns within the past five years.

Businesses can easily register using the “Super Form,” a single Business Registration Form for New Companies and Business Names.  The ORC acts as a “one-stop-shop,” effectively reducing the registration time to between one and three days.  Foreign companies can register using these forms, with or without the assistance of an attorney or notary.  The “Super Form” can be accessed under Forms at the ORC’s website (https://www.orcjamaica.com).  All that is needed is a device with access to the internet, an approved reserved name, proof of address (any recent document used to verify your current address such as a utility bill or driver’s license), and a valid ID (Driver’s License, Passport or Voters Id).  The website gives detailed instructions throughout the process.

While the GOJ does not actively promote an outward investment program, it does not restrict domestic investors from investing abroad.

3. Legal Regime

Jamaica’s regulatory systems are transparent and consistent with international norms.  Proposed legislation is available for public review at japarliament.gov.jm, and submissions are generally invited from members of the public when there is a distinct policy shift or for sensitive changes.  There is no law that requires the rulemaking body to solicit comments on proposed regulation and no timeframe for the length of a consultation period when it happens.  Furthermore, the law does not require reporting on public consultations, but the government presents the consultations directly to interested stakeholders in one unified report.  Laws in effect are available at japarliament.gov.jm or moj.gov.jm.  Companies interested in doing business in a particular sector should seek guidance from the relevant regulator(s), including the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) for utilities, the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) for deposit taking institutions (DTIs) and the Financial Services Commission (FSC) for non-DTIs.

Jamaica is compliant with established benchmarks for public disclosure of its budget, the establishment and functioning of an independent and supreme audit body, and the award of contracts for natural resource extraction.  Additionally, Jamaica’s Public Debt Management Act (PDMA) of 2012 has codified a gradual reduction in its contingent liability or Government Guaranteed Loans (GGL).  The PDMA targets a three percent GGL-to-GDP ratio by 2027. 

Jamaica has adopted IFRS Standards including the IFRS for SMEs Standard for all companies. Jamaica adopted IFRS Standards in 2000 by Resolution of the members of the ICAJ.

The Jamaica Corporate Governance Code 2021 was officially launched on Friday, February 25, 2022. The Code remains the only tool of its kind to date in the Caribbean aimed at helping entities – public and private – to implement Corporate Governance best practices in keeping with international standards.  The Code, which was prepared by the PSOJ Corporate Governance Committee through funding by IDB Invest is available for viewing and download here: https://www.psoj.org/corporate-governance-2/.

The GOJ tends to adopt Commonwealth standards for its regulatory system, especially from Canada and the United Kingdom.  In 2001, CARICOM member states established the Regional Organization for Standards and Quality (CROSQ) under Article 67 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.  CROSQ is intended to harmonize regional standards to facilitate the smooth movement of goods in the common market.  Jamaica is also a full member of the WTO and is required to notify all draft technical regulations to the WTO Committee of Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT).

Jamaica has a common law legal system and court decisions are generally based on past judicial declarations.  The Jamaican Constitution provides for an independent judiciary with a three-tier court structure.  A party seeking to enforce ownership or contractual rights can file a claim in the Resident Magistrate or Supreme Court.  Appeals on decisions made in these courts can be taken before the Court of Appeal and then to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the United Kingdom.  The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), in its original jurisdiction, is the court of the 15-member Caribbean Community (CARICOM), but Jamaica has not signed on to its appellate jurisdiction.

Jamaica does not have a single written commercial or contractual law and case law is therefore supplemented by the following pieces of legislation: (1) Arbitration (Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Awards) Act; (2) Companies Act; (3) Consumer Protection Act; (4) Fair Competition Act; (5) Investment Disputes Awards (Enforcement) Act; (6) Judgment (Foreign) (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act; (7) Law Reform (Frustrated Contracts) Act; (8) Loans (Equity Investment Bonds) Act; (9) Partnership (Limited) Act; (10) Registration of Business Names Act; (11) Sale of Goods Act; (12) Standards Act; and, (13) Trade Act.  The commercial and civil divisions of the Supreme Court have jurisdiction to hear intellectual property claims. 

Jamaica enforces the judgments of foreign courts through: (1) The Judgment and Awards (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act; (2) The Judgment (Foreign) (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act; and (3) The Maintenance Orders (Facilities for Enforcement) Act.  Under these acts, judgments of foreign courts are accepted where there is a reciprocal enforcement of judgment treaty with the relevant foreign state.  International arbitration is also accepted as a means for settling investment disputes between private parties.  

The Jamaican judicial system has a long tradition of being fair, but court cases can take years or even decades to resolve.  A new Chief Justice appointed in 2018 has set aggressive benchmarks to streamline the delivery of judgments, bring greater levels of efficiency to court administration, and target throughput rates in line with international best practice.  Efforts are currently underway to provide hearing date certainty and disposition of cases within 24 months, barring exceptional circumstances.  The deployment of new courtrooms and the appointment of additional Appeal Court Judges are indicators of Jamaica’s commitment to justice reform.  

Challenges with dispute resolution usually reflect broader problems within the court system, including long delays and resource constraints.  Subsequent enforcement of court decisions or arbitration awards is usually adequate, and the local court will recognize the enforcement of an international arbitration award. 

A specialized Commercial Court was established in 2001 to expedite the resolution of commercial cases.  The rules do not make it mandatory for commercial cases to be filed in the Commercial Court and the Court is largely underutilized by litigants. 

Jamaica ranked 119 in the 2019 World Bank Doing Business Report on the metric of enforcement of contracts, scoring 64.8 in the length of time taken for enforcement, 43.6 for costs associated with litigation and 52.8 on the quality of judicial processes.

There are no specific laws or regulations specifically related to foreign investment.  Since foreign companies are treated similar to Jamaican companies when investing, the relevant sections of the applicable laws are applied equally. 

The Fair-Trading Commission (FTC), an agency of the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, administers the Fair Competition Act (FCA).  The major objective of the FCA is to foster competitive behavior and provide consumer protection.  The Act proscribes the following anti-competitive practices: resale price maintenance; tied selling; price fixing; collusion and cartels; and bid rigging.  The Act does not specifically prohibit mergers or acquisitions that could lead to the creation of a monopoly.  The FTC is empowered to investigate breaches of the Act and businesses or individuals in breach can be taken to court if they fail to implement corrective measures outlined by the FTC.

Expropriation is generally not an issue in Jamaica, although land may be expropriated for national development under the Land Acquisition Act, which provides for compensation on the basis of market value.  The U.S. government is not aware of any current expropriation-related litigation between the Jamaican government and any private individual or company.  However, the U.S. government assisted investors who had property expropriated during the 1970’s socialist regime, with a payment in one such case received in 2010.

Jamaica enacted new insolvency legislation in 2014 that replaced the Bankruptcy Act of 1880 and seeks to make the insolvency process more efficient.  The Act prescribes the circumstances under which bankruptcy is committed; the procedure for filing a bankruptcy petition; and the procedures to be followed in the administration of the estates of bankrupts.  The reform addresses bankruptcy; insolvency, receiverships; provisional supervision; and winding up proceedings.  The law addresses corporate and individual insolvency and facilitates the rehabilitation of insolvent debtors, while removing the stigma formerly associated with either form of insolvency.  Both insolvents and “looming insolvents” (persons who will become insolvent within twelve months of the filing of the proposal if corrective or preventative action is not taken) are addressed in the reforms.

The Act contains a provision for debtors to make a proposal to their creditors for the restructuring of debts, subject to acceptance by the creditor.  Creditors can also invoke bankruptcy proceedings against the debtor if the amount owed is not less than the prescribed threshold or if the debtor has committed an act of bankruptcy.  The filing of a proposal or notice of intention to file a proposal creates a temporary stay of proceedings.  During this period, the creditor is precluded from enforcing claims against the debtor.  The stay does not apply to secured creditors who take possession of secured assets before the proposal is filed; gives notice of intention to enforce against a security at least 10 days before the notice of intention or actual proposal is filed; or rejects the proposal.  The 2014 legislation makes it a criminal offence if a bankrupt entity defaults on certain obligations set out in the legislation.

Jamaica ranked 34 on Resolving Insolvency in the 2020 World Bank’s Doing Business Report.  Bankruptcy proceedings take about a year to resolve, costing 18 percent of the estate value with an average recovery rate of 65 percent.

The text of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act can be found at: http://www.japarliament.gov.jm/attachments/341_The%20Insolvency%20Act%202014%20No.14%20rotated.pdf  

4. Industrial Policies

The Fiscal Incentives (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2013 repeals most of the legacy incentive legislation and provides flexibility for new tax incentives only to be granted in relation to the bauxite sector, special economic zone activities, the relocation of corporate headquarters, and Junior Stock Exchange listings.  The Act also outlines the arrangement for transitioning to the new regime.  Continuing beneficiaries may elect to keep old incentives such as relief from income tax and customs duty as well as zero-rated General Consumption Tax (GCT) status for imports.  

Below are short descriptions of notable, recently enacted investment incentives.

Omnibus legislation – Provides tax relief on customs duties, additional stamp duties, and corporate income tax.  These benefits are granted under the following four areas:

(1) The Fiscal Incentives Act: Targets small and medium size businesses and reduces the effective corporate income tax rate by applying: (a) an Employment Tax Credit (ETC) at a maximum value of 30 percent; and (b) a capital allowance applicable to a broadened definition of industrial buildings.

(2) The Income Tax Relief (Large-Scale Projects and Pioneer Industries) Act: Targets large-scale projects and/or pioneering projects and provides for an improved and more attractive rate for the ETC.  Projects will be designated either as large-scale or pioneer based on a decision by Parliament and subject to an Economic Impact Assessment.

(3) Revised Customs Tariff: Provides for the duty-free importation of capital equipment and raw material for the productive sectors. 

(4) Revised Stamp Duty Act: Provides exemption from additional stamp duty on raw materials and non-consumer goods for the manufacturing sector.

Urban Renewal Act: Companies that undertake development within Special Development Areas can benefit from Urban Renewal Bonds, a 33.3 percent investment tax credit, tax-free rental income, and the exemption from transfer tax and stamp duties on the ‘improved’ value of the property. 

Bauxite and Alumina Act: Under this Act, bauxite/alumina producers are allowed to import all productive inputs free of duties, Value Added Tax (VAT), and other port related taxes and charges.  

The Foreign Sales Corporation Act: This Act exempts income tax for five years for qualified income arising from foreign trade.  U.S. law through the Tax Information Exchange Agreement (TIEA) reinforces this incentive.  

Jamaica’s EX-IM Bank provides concessionary interest rate loans for trade financing, while the Development Bank of Jamaica offers reduced lending rates to the productive sectors.  Special tax incentives exist for companies that register on the Junior Stock Exchange.

Income Tax Act (Junior Stock Exchange): As of January 1, 2014, companies listed on the Junior Stock Exchange are not required to pay income tax during the first five years and 50 percent for the next five years.  

Special Economic Zone Act: In 2015, Jamaica passed legislation establishing Special Economic Zones (SEZs).  The SEZ Act repeals the Jamaica Free Zone Act, making way for: (1) the designation; promotion; development; operation; and management of Special Economic Zones; (2) the establishment of a SEZ Authority; and (3) the granting of benefits and other measures in order to attract domestic and foreign investments. 

Productive inputs relief (PIR): There is relief from customs duty and additional stamp duty on the importation of certain ‘productive inputs’ that are directly used in the ‘production of primary products’ or the ‘manufacture of goods’.  In addition to the manufacturing and agricultural sectors, relief is also granted on certain products imported for use in the tourism, creative arts, and healthcare industries.

As at March 2022 there were 164 entities operating in Jamaica’s Special Economic Zones (SEZ), occupying over 25 million square feet.  Operations in Jamaica’s SEZs include business process outsourcing (BPO); warehousing and distribution; manufacturing; and assembly and production facilities.  The Jamaica Special Economic Zone Authority (www.jseza.com) regulates, supervises, and promotes the Special Economic Zone (SEZ).  

SEZ operators benefit from a 12.5 percent corporate income tax rate (effective rate may be as low as 7.5 percent with the approval of additional tax credits); customs duty relief, General Consumption Tax (GCT) relief; employment tax credit; promotional tax credit on research and development; capital allowance; and a stamp duty payable of 50 percent.  Developers receive these benefits plus relief from income tax on rental income and relief from transfer tax.  There is a non-refundable one-time registration fee and renewable annual fee to enter the regime.

Duty-free zones are primarily found in airports, hotels, and tourist centers and, as with special economic zone activities, do not discriminate on the basis of nationality.  

No performance requirements are generally imposed as a condition for investing in Jamaica, and government of Jamaica (GOJ) imposed conditions are not overly burdensome.  The GOJ does not mandate local employment, although the use of foreign workers to fill semi-skilled and unskilled jobs is generally frowned upon, especially by trade unions.  When requesting work permits for foreign workers, both local and foreign employers must describe efforts to recruit locally.  The GOJ requires a description of efforts to recruit locally.  The U.S. government has heard of delays in obtaining work permits for foreign workers as the GOJ does not readily have data available to determine if the requisite skills exist in Jamaica.

The GOJ does not follow “forced localization,” requiring domestic content in goods or technology.  There are no requirements to provide the GOJ access to surveillance of data and there are no restrictions on maintaining certain amounts of data storage within the country.

5. Protection of Property Rights

Private entities, whether foreign or domestic, generally have the right to freely establish, own, acquire, and dispose of business enterprises and may engage in all forms of remunerative activity.

Property rights are guaranteed by the Jamaican Constitution.  The Registration of Titles Act recognizes and provides for the enforcement of secured interests in property by way of mortgage.  It also facilitates and protects the acquisition and disposition of all property rights, though working through Jamaica’s bureaucracy can result in significant delays.  With less than half of land in Jamaica registered, it can take a long time for landowners to secure titles.  

Squatting is also a major challenge in Jamaica, with an estimated 20 percent of the population living as squatters.  Three-quarters of these squatters reside on government lands.  Under the Registration of Titles Act, a squatter can claim a property by adverse possession (without compensating the owner for the land) if a person can demonstrate that he or she has lived on government land for more than 60 years, or on private property for more than 12 years undisturbed (including without any payment to the landowner).  There are no specific regulations regarding land lease or acquisition by foreign and/or non-resident investors.

The country’s World Bank Doing Business Report ranking for ease of “registering property” was 85 in 2020, improving significantly due to the reduction in cost associated with transferring and registering collateral using property.  Jamaica continued to outperform other Latin America and Caribbean countries in the time required to close a property transaction. 

Registration of Titles Act: http://moj.gov.jm/sites/default/files/laws/Registration%20of%20Titles.pdf  

Jamaica has one of the stronger intellectual property (IP) protection regimes in Latin America and the Caribbean according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Intellectual Property Rights Index, although legislative and enforcement gaps still exist.  Jamaica is a member of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and is a signatory of the Berne Convention.  Jamaica and the United States have an Intellectual Property Rights Agreement and a Bilateral Investment Treaty, which provide assurances to protect intellectual property.  It is relatively easy to register IP, and the Jamaica Intellectual Property Office (JIPO) assists parties interested in registering IP and supports investors’ efforts to enforce their rights.  Overall, protections across all types of IP are improving.  

Law enforcement efforts to combat counterfeit and pirated goods are improving on the ground but border enforcement remains a challenge.  IP violations tend to be more in relation to physical goods, while electronic IP theft is less common.  

The country’s trademark and copyright regimes satisfy the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).  In January 2020, the country passed its long-awaited TRIPS compliant Patent and Designs Act and has been removed from the USTR Special 301 Watchlist.  The Act came into force in February 2022.  The Geographical Indications Act (GI) of 2004 is now fully in force and is TRIPS compliant, protecting products whose particular quality or reputation is attributable to its geographical origin.  The Trademarks (Amendment) Act of 2021 went into force in March 2022, bringing into effect the Madrid Protocol.  General law provides protection for trade secrets and protection against unfair competition is guaranteed under the Fair Competition Act.  The Madrid Protocol allowing for international registration of a trademark on the basis of a single application takes effect on March 27, 2022.

In the area of copyright protection, amendments to the Copyright Act passed in June 2015 fulfilled Jamaica’s obligations under the WIPO Internet Treaties and extended copyright protection term from 50 to 95 years.  The Copyright Act complies with the TRIPS Agreement and adheres to the principles of the Berne Convention and covers works ranging from books and music to computer programs.  Amendments in June 1999 explicitly provide copyright protection on compilations of works such as databases and make it an offense for a person to manufacture or trade in decoders of encrypted transmissions.  It also gives persons in encrypted transmissions or in broadcasting or cable program services a right of action against persons who infringe upon their rights.

The Jamaica Constabulary Force established a specialized intellectual property unit within its counter terrorism and organized crime branch (C-TOC) in 2015 to boost IP enforcement.  The unit continued to work with the Contraband Enforcement Team of the Jamaica Customs Agency to seize and destroy counterfeit goods, while pursing criminal proceedings where possible.  In 2021, over $60 million in counterfeit goods were destroyed by state agencies.  The amount increased significantly due to the destruction of goods seized by Jamaica Customs in 2017.  The most commonly counterfeited goods include shoes, alcohol, cigarettes, clothing, handbags, and pharmaceuticals.  Jamaica’s border enforcement efforts are hampered by customs officers not having ex officio authority to seize and destroy counterfeit goods.  Rights holders must first be provided with visual samples of suspect merchandise to verify the item as counterfeit, submit a declaration indicating the differences between the fake and actual brands, and provide an authorization to seize the merchandise.  Rights holders are responsible for paying the costs associated with storage and destruction of counterfeit goods, and in recent cases the cost started at $250,000.  Presently the Commissioner of Customs may grant up to 10 days for a rights holder to produce the required evidence and commitments before releasing suspected counterfeit goods that are in transit.  

For additional information about treaty obligations and points of contact at local IP offices, please see WIPO’s country profiles at http://www.wipo.int/directory/en/.

6. Financial Sector

Credit is available at market terms, and foreigners are allowed to borrow freely on the local market at market-determined rates of interest.  A relatively effective regulatory system was established to encourage and facilitate portfolio investment.  Jamaica has had its own stock exchange, the Jamaica Stock Exchange (JSE), since 1969.  The JSE was the top performing capital market indices in 2018 and was among the top five performers in 2019.  The Financial Services Commission (FSC) and the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ), the central bank, regulate these activities.  Jamaica adheres to IMF Article VIII by refraining from restrictions on payments and transfers for current international transactions.

At the end of 2021 there were 11 deposit-taking institutions (DTIs) consisting of eight commercial banks, one merchant bank (Licensed under the Financial Institutions Act) and two building societies.  The number of credit unions shrank from 47 at the end of 2009 to 25 at the end of 2021.  Commercial banks held assets of approximately $14 billion at the end of 2021.  Non-performing loans (NPL) of $200 million at end December 2020, were 3 percent of total loans.  Five of the country’s eight commercial banks are foreign owned.  After a financial sector crisis in the mid-1990s led to consolidations, the sector has remained largely stable.  

In October 2018, the GOJ took legislative steps to modernize and make the central bank operationally independent through the tabling of amendments to the Bank of Jamaica (BOJ) Act. The modernization program includes, inter alia, the institutionalization of the central bank independence, improved governance, and the transitioning of monetary policy towards inflation targeting.  The modernization efforts continued in 2020 with the passage of the Bank of Jamaica Amendment Act to allow for, among other things: (1) full-fledged inflation targeting; (2) improved capitalization, governance, transparency, and accountability; (3) monetary policy decisions to be devolved to a monetary policy committee; and (4) the central bank Governor to account to Parliament.  The Act will therefore remove the power of the government to give monetary policy direction to the central bank.  These changes will move Jamaica’s financial governance framework closer in line with international standards.   

In May of 2020, the BOJ, as a part of their ongoing retail payments reform, ventured into the digital innovation that is fast becoming a feature of global central banks, central bank digital currency (CBDC).  CBDC is a digital form of central bank issued currency and is therefore legal tender.  It is not to be confused with cryptocurrency, which is privately issued and not backed by a central authority.  CBDC is fully backed by the Central Bank, the sole issuer.  The Bank of Jamaica will roll out the digital Jamaican dollar in 2022 after a successful pilot during 2021.

Jamaica does not have a sovereign wealth fund or an asset management bureau.

7. State-Owned Enterprises

Jamaican SOEs are most prominent in the agriculture, mining, energy, and transport sectors of the economy.  Of 149 public bodies, 54 are self-financing and are therefore considered SOEs as either limited liability entities established under the Companies Act of Jamaica or statutory bodies created by individual enabling legislation.  SOEs generally do not receive preferential access to government contracts.  SOEs must adhere to the provisions of the GOJ (Revised) Handbook of Public Sector Procurement Procedures and are expected to participate in a bidding process to provide goods and services to the government.  SOEs also provide services to private sector firms.  SOEs must report quarterly on all contracts above a prescribed limit to the Integrity Commission.  Since 2002, SOEs have been subject to the same tax requirements as private enterprises and are required to purchase government-owned land and raw material and execute these transactions on similar terms as private entities. 

Jamaica’s Public Bodies Management and Accountability Act (PBMA) requires SOEs to prepare annual corporate plans and budgets, which must be debated and approved by Parliament.  As part of the GOJ’s economic reform agenda, SOE performance is monitored against agreed targets and goals, with oversight provided by stakeholders including representatives of civil society.  The GOJ prioritized divestment of SOEs, particularly the most inefficient, as part of its IMF reform commitments.  Private firms compete with SOEs on fair terms and SOEs generally lack the same profitability motives as private enterprises, leading to the GOJ’s absorbing the debt of loss-making public sector enterprises. 

Jamaica’s public bodies report to their respective Board of Directors appointed by the responsible portfolio minister and while no general rules guide the allocation of SOE board positions, some entities allocate seats to specific stakeholders.  In 2012, the GOJ approved a Corporate Governance Framework (CGF) under which persons appointed to boards should possess the skills and competencies required for the effective functioning of the entity.  With some board members being selected on the basis of their political affiliation, the government is in the process of developing new board policy guidelines.  The Jamaican court system, while slow, is respected for being fair and balanced and in many cases has ruled against the GOJ and its agents.   

As part of its economic reform program, the GOJ identified a number of public assets to be privatized from various sectors.  Jamaica actively courts foreign investors as part of its divestment strategy.  In certain instances, the government encourages local participation.  Restrictions may be placed on certain assets due to national security considerations.  Privatization can occur through sale, lease, or concession.  Transactions are generally executed through public tenders, but the GOJ reserves the right to accept unsolicited proposals for projects deemed to be strategic.  The Development Bank of Jamaica, which oversees the privatization program, is mandated to ensure that the process is fair and transparent.  When some entities are being privatized, advertisements are placed locally and through international publications, such as the Financial Times, New York Times, and Wall Street Journal, to attract foreign investors.  Foreign investors won most of the privatization bids in the last decade.

While the time taken to divest assets depends on state of readiness and complexity, on average transactions take between 18 and 24 months.  The process involves pre-feasibility and due diligence assessments; feasibility studies; pre-qualification of bidders; and a public tender.  In 2019 the GOJ divested two of its major assets through initial public offerings (IPOs): a 62-megawatt wind farm, which raised almost $40 million, and a toll highway, which raised almost $90 million.  The GOJ is in planning to divest the Jamaica Mortgage Bank and its minority interest in the electricity provider, the Jamaica Public Service, through public offerings.  In 2018, the GOJ signed a 25-year concession for the management and development of the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston.  Other large privatizations include the 2003 privatization of Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay and the 2015 privatization of the Kingston Container Terminal port facility.    

A list of current privatization transactions can be found at http://dbankjm.com/current-transactions/.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Responsible Business Conduct (RBC) among many Jamaican companies is a developing practice, with more established companies further along the scale.  In 2013, the government provided additional financial incentives for corporations to support charity work through the Charities Act, under which corporations and individuals can claim a tax deduction on contributions made to registered charitable organizations.  Some large publicly listed companies and multinational corporations in Jamaica maintain their own foundations that carry out social and community projects to support education, youth employment, and entrepreneurship.  

In 2018, the GOJ became party to the OECD’s Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Multilateral Convention, which updates the network of bilateral tax treaties and reduces opportunities for tax avoidance by multinational enterprises.  GOJ also became signatory to the Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters, effective March 1, 2019, having deposited instruments of ratification in November 2018.  

Recent years have seen increased disputes over bauxite mining rights in Jamaica’s Cockpit Country, an area inhabited by the semi-autonomous Maroon population.  In January 2022, the Jamaican government granted a Jamaican-owned subsidiary of an international firm rights to mine on more than one thousand acres of previously protected land claimed by the Maroons despite protests by community representatives.

9. Corruption

Jamaican law provides criminal penalties for corruption by public officials, however, there is at least circumstantial evidence that some officials engage in corrupt practice.  There were also reports of government corruption in the last couple years and it remained a significant cause of public concern.  Media and civil society organizations continued to criticize the government for being slow and at times reluctant to tackle corruption.

Under the Corruption Prevention Act, public servants can be imprisoned for up to 10 years and fined as much as USD 100,000 if found guilty of engaging in acts of bribery, including bribes to foreign public officials.  

In 2017, Jamaica passed an Integrity Commission Act that consolidated three agencies with anti-corruption mandates into a single entity, the Integrity Commission, which now has limited prosecutorial powers.  The three agencies are the precursor Integrity Commission, which received and monitored statutory declarations from parliamentarians; the Office of the Contractor General (OCG), which monitored government contracts; and the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, which received the financial filings of specified public servants.  A key area of concern for corruption is in government procurement.  However, successful prosecutions – particularly for high-level corruption – are rare.  Three Ministers of government demitted office between 2018 and March 2022, in the wake of corruption allegations.

Corruption, and its apparent linkages with organized crime, appear to be one of the root causes of Jamaica’s high crime rate and economic stagnation.  In 2021, Transparency International gave Jamaica a score of 44 out of a possible 100 on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI). 

10. Political and Security Environment

Crime poses a greater threat to foreign investment in Jamaica than political violence, as the country has not experienced any major political violence since the early 1980s.  Violent crime, mostly attributed to gangs, is rooted in poverty, unemployment, social neglect, and transnational crime, including so-called “lottery-scamming”, and is a serious problem in Jamaica.  Gang violence is highly concentrated in inner-city neighborhoods but can occur elsewhere.  The Jamaica Constabulary Force recorded 1,463 murders in 2021, a per capita homicide rate of roughly 50 per 100,000, the highest homicide rate in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2021.  Jamaica also faces a significant problem with extortion in certain urban commercial areas and on large construction project sites.  The security challenges increase the cost of doing business as companies spend on additional security measures.

The U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory (of March 2022) assesses Jamaica at Level 3, indicating travelers should exercise increased caution.  U.S. companies with personnel assigned to Jamaica are strongly advised to conduct security and cultural awareness training. 

Please refer to the Jamaica 2019 Crime and Safety Report from the Department of State’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) for additional information (https://www.osac.gov/Country/Jamaica/Detail).

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Jamaica had an estimated labor force of 1.3 million as of October 2021 with an unemployment rate of 7.1 percent.  Women make up 46.2 percent of the labor force and have an unemployment rate of 9 percent.  Unemployment is highest within the 14-19 age cohort.  Most Jamaicans are employed in services including the retail and tourism sectors, followed by construction, transportation, and communications.  Since 1999, more Jamaicans have become trained in information technology and the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry currently employs more than 40,000 people.  

Data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) show that the number of women securing employment is gradually increasing.  According to STATIN’s October 2021 Labor Force Survey, of the 76,600 additional persons gaining jobs to expand the employed labor force by 6.6 per cent to 1,234,800, women accounted for 43,700.  This out-turn represents 57 per cent of the overall additional jobs generated and pushed the number of gainfully employed females by 8.5 per cent up to 558,600.  While the margin of increase for males was smaller, at 39,900 or 5.1 per cent, the overall number of men in jobs was significantly larger, at 676,200 (https://jis.gov.jm/government/ministries/).

No law requires hiring locals, but foreign investors are expected to hire locals, especially for unskilled and lower skilled jobs.  Under the Work Permit Act, a foreign national who wishes to work in Jamaica must first apply for a permit issued by the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.  The law, which seeks to give first preference to Jamaicans, requires organizations planning to employ foreign nationals to prove that attempts were made to employ a Jamaican national.

The security guard industry adopted the practice of employing workers on extended contracts to avoid some of the cost, including severance, associated with direct employment.  Jamaica does not have a history of waiving labor laws to retain or attract investment and these laws tend to be uniform across the economy.     

There are no restrictions on employers adjusting employment to respond to market conditions, but there are severance payment requirements if a position is made redundant.  Under the law, there is a distinction between a layoff and a redundancy.  A layoff allows a temporary period without employment for up to four months.  The Employment (Termination and Redundancy Payments) Act provides redundancy pay to employees who are let go with at least two years of continuous employment.  There are no unemployment benefits in Jamaica, but low-income Jamaicans have the option of applying for social benefits under a conditional cash transfer program referred to as the Program for Advancement though Health and Education (PATH). 

The law provides for the rights of workers to form or join unions, to bargain collectively, and the freedom to strike.  Trade union membership accounts for about 20 percent of the labor force, although the movement has weakened in recent years.  The law prohibits anti-union discrimination, although it is not uncommon for private sector employers to lay off union workers and rehire them as contractors.  Labor law entitles protections to all persons categorized as workers, although it denies contract workers coverage under certain statutory provisions, such as redundancy benefits.  The law denies collective bargaining if no single union represents at least 40 percent of the workers in the unit.  Unionization is limited in Jamaica’s free zones.      

Jamaica has an Industrial Disputes Tribunal (IDT) to which the Minister of Labor and Social Security may refer disputes unsettled at the local level.    

Jamaica ratified most International Labor Organization (ILO) Conventions and international labor rights are recognized within domestic law.  Jamaica has ratified all key international conventions concerning child labor and established laws and regulations related to child labor, including in its worst forms.  However, gaps still exist in Jamaica’s legal framework to adequately protect children from child labor.  The GOJ is under-resourced for investigations on worker abuse as well as on occupational safety and health checks. 

Jamaica’s workplace policy incorporates all of the recommended practices of the ILO code of practice on HIV/AIDS but the legislation to regulate enforcement is yet to be ratified.  In conjunction with the ILO and local stakeholders, the GOJ passed legislation guiding flexible working arrangements. 

The informal economy (encompassing pure tax evasion, the irregular economy and illegal activities) represents a large and growing share of the overall economy.  This growing sector represents a diverse group of enterprises and workers, ranging from local peddlers to relatively sophisticated small entrepreneurs.  Tax evaders reduce revenue the Jamaican tax system would otherwise receive.  Tax evasion therefore contributes to lower levels of government services, higher taxes on the rest of the economy and larger government deficits.  Irregular economic activity is the least virulent portion of the informal economy, and even has beneficial aspects.  Irregular activity generates goods, services and jobs that might otherwise be unavailable.  

14. Contact for More Information

Joe James
Economic/Commercial Officer
142 Old Hope Road
Kingston 6, Jamaica
+1 876-702-6000

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