The Joe Biden Administration on Friday applauded Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness for his “very strong economic leadership” in Jamaica and for Washington’s partnership in the Caribbean.
In remarks made before meeting with Holness at the US Department of State, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said that America’s partnership with Jamaica and the wider Caribbean has “never been better.”
“And that’s in large part due to your engagement and your leadership,” Blinken told Holness. “So, we’re very pleased to have you here to talk about many of the issues that bring us together in our own region, but also issues that are affecting people globally – from climate to COVID, to other things.
“And we’re of course, very much forward to working together on the Summit of the Americas, which is coming up,” he added.
Holness said Jamaica and the United States have had “a very long and strong relationship, particularly on the people-to-people side of things.
“From government-to-government perspective, Jamaica and the United States have shared values and needs,” he said. “We’re both strong democracies. And in an era where democracy is not necessarily (inaudible) state of nations, it is very important that democracies work together to strengthen their partnerships and to explore ways in which we can help each other.
The Jamaican leader said he was “pleased to report that Jamaica has made significant progress in its microeconomic development, particularly with its fiscal stability and sustainability and debt reduction.
“We were able to do this with significant help and facilitation by the United States, and we are here to express our gratitude for that help,” he said. “We are now at a point where we can pivot to other areas of our economic and social development, our human capital development.”
Holness said Jamaica has been “a net exporter of talent to the United States,” stating that “our longstanding people-to-people relationship, with migration back and forth, would have been mutually beneficial.”
But the prime minister said Jamaica is currently in a state “where its growth potential, its growth horizon, could potentially be limited by its human resource development.
“And this is an area in which we want to explore ways in which we can further partnership,” he said.
Holness said the present global and geopolitical instabilities have highlighted the vulnerabilities of Small Island Developing States.
“We take great note of yesterday’s announcement by President Biden regarding the release of strategic reserves,” he said. “We hope that that will have a positive effect on the reduction of oil prices, and, hopefully, it will be beneficial to small island countries and developing states, like Jamaica, who are facing a really very difficult time just coming out of the pandemic and then being hit with these other geopolitical issues over which we have no control or (inaudible).
“We have to also discuss matters of climate change,” he added. “We met in COP, and we had very good discussions as to how small island, developing countries could be assisted and facilitated.”
Holness said there is “always the issue of our national security and your security interests in the region.
“We are in a region which is considered near third world, and the ability of states within the region to control their domain, control their maritime borders and their land borders, is critical,” he said. “Obviously, crime and violence – these are areas in which we can have great discussions and great partnerships.
“And then there is the issue of how do we convert our democracies into prosperous economies. That is the real challenge,” Holness added. “How do we get our democracies to be prosperous for our people? And I think for smaller and developing states like Jamaica, a small shift in policy – economic policy, could result in gains that are significant both for our economies, but for your economies as well.
“Jamaica considers itself to be a friendly near-shore destination for investments and production capacity,” he continued. “And I think that it would be in the US’s interest to look at countries like Jamaica, to position strategic production capacity which could be beneficial for the stability of production chains and supply of goods and services.”
Holness said he looks forward to the Summit of the Americas, adding that Jamaica will be “attending in full force.
“And I must say that we were very happy to be invited and participate in the Summit for Democracy,” he said.
On Thursday, the Joe Biden Administration announced that it is providing US20 million to assist Jamaica with strengthening and expanding its commerce.
The White House said in a statement that Vice President Kamala Harris, the daughter of a Jamaican father, made the announcement during a bilateral meeting on Wednesday with Holness.
“The United States — and I am announcing today — will be investing US$20 million to assist in the strengthening and the expansion of Jamaica’s commerce in a way that we fully intend will have an impact in strengthening the economy of Jamaica and drive economic growth,” said Harris, disclosing that half of her family is from St. Ann Parish in Jamaica.
Harris’s father is retired economist Donald J. Harris, 83.
“We also recognize — just as it has been in the United States — for Jamaica, one of the issues that has been presented, as an issue that is economic in the way of its impact, has been the pandemic,” she added.
“So, to that end, we are announcing today also that we will assist Jamaica in COVID recovery by assisting in terms of the recovery efforts in Jamaica that have been essential to, I believe, what is necessary to strengthen not only the issue of public health but also the economy,” the US Vice President continued.
“And this is on top of more than — what we have done throughout the year since the start of the pandemic: US$12 million in COVID assistance and more than 600,000 vaccinations — or vaccines that have been donated,” she said.
In addition, Harris said the Biden administration is providing US$10 million to target at-risk youth in Jamaica “through a number of initiatives that we believe will have exponential impact not only on the issue of crime prevention, but what we intend as well, which is to strengthen, as you have described, the natural human capital that exists in Jamaica among young people.”
Harris said her meeting with Holness also addressed issues that are “about a global significance.
“And to that end, I thank the prime minister for the leadership that he has offered in the context of votes that have been taken in the United Nations and in terms of Jamaica’s strong stand in joining the United Nations and the United States in condemning Russia’s aggression in Ukraine,” she said.
Harris said the two leaders discussed “quite extensively” the impact of the climate crisis on island nations and, in particular, on Jamaica.
“We discussed — and from my perspective, I recognize and we recognize that the world’s emissions have an outsized effect in the Caribbean, including on Jamaica,” she said. “And I thanked the prime minister for his leadership in that regard. And we are eager to partner with the prime minister on what we can do to invest and prioritize climate resilience, but also an investment in renewable energies, understanding that this is about energy sources, and it is also about human capital and development and supporting the economy there.”
Holness said he was “grateful for the very warm reception we have received”, further thanking Harris for the announcements she made to support Jamaica “in the areas of commerce, help on COVID-19 recovery, and — for us, very importantly — the human capital development; and also for the commitment for further strategic dialogue as to how Jamaica and the region as a whole can be supported, particularly in transitioning our democracies into prosperous economies.
“That has been the essence of our conversation,” said the Jamaican leader, adding that Harris has been “a source of inspiration and great pride for many Caribbean people — in particular, our young women in the region.
“And we are, indeed, seeing an increase in the political participation of young women,” he continued. “And this diversity in the political space will augur well for the — for the region.”
Holness said his visit to the White House took place in the context of Jamaica celebrating 60 years of independence and 60 years of diplomatic relations with the United States.
He said the United States was one of the first countries to recognize newly independent Jamaica, “and we have had a very strong relationship since.
“The United States and Jamaica enjoys strong people-to-people economic and development partnerships, and we’re very proud of our continued strong relationship,” Holness said. “Today, our discussions reaffirm this strong partnership. And we discussed ways in which this partnership can be strengthened and expanded.”
On Wednesday, the Jamaica Prime Minister described as “very productive” his historic meeting with Harris.
His meeting at the White House was the first for a Jamaican leader since 1995, when former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson held a working meeting there.
The Office of the Jamaica Prime Minister said that Holness, during his US visit, is also expected to meet with “high level officials within the US Government” and “will also have discussions with the Diaspora.”
The statement said Holness was expected to return to Jamaica on Sunday.