The Biggest Industries In Jamaica

Tourism is the biggest industry in Jamaica. Editorial credit: Ovidiu Curic /
Tourism is the biggest industry in Jamaica. Editorial credit: Ovidiu Curic /

Jamaica is one of the major economies in the Caribbean. The small island nation has a GDP of $14.36 billion. The Jamaican Dollar is recognized as the country’s official currency, and the Bank of Jamaica regulates its inflation. The country is endowed with natural resources in the form of minerals, favorable climate, and natural beauty. Despite having 1.305 people making up its labor force, the unemployment rate in the country stands at 13.1%. A worrying statistic in the economic situation in the country is its external debt, which amounts to over $ 14.6 billion. Tourism, agriculture, mining, and manufacturing are the largest industries in the country, contributing about 30%, 6.6%, 4.1% and 29.4% of Jamaica’s GDP respectively.


The tourism industry is the Caribbean country’s top foreign exchange earner and contributes about 30% of Jamaica’s Gross Domestic Product. International tourists in Jamaica spent an estimated $0.411 billion in 2015, a significant drop from the $0.457 billion spent by international tourists in 2014. Being one of Jamaica’s leading employers, the tourism industry accounts for 25% of all employed people in the country. The island nation has been visited by at least 1.5 million tourists each year since 2006, with tourist numbers peaking at over 2.182 million in 2016, representing an annual growth rate of about 3.3%. The island nation is a gem in the region, having animals found nowhere else in the Caribbean. The most abundant native animal in the country are the bats. Mongoose and wild boar are also found in large populations. The American giant centipede, the largest in the world is also found on the island together with America’s biggest butterfly. The Blue Mountains and the John Crow Mountains are among the favorite tourist sites in the country, with the region being rich in vegetation resulting in beautiful green scenery. A 300-square-mile national park protects the rich biosphere around the mountains. However, Ocho Rios is arguably the island’s most popular tourist destination. The town was initially a humble fishing center but has grown to become a resort town, drawing thousands of tourists. Jamaica is also known for its white-sand beaches, which are scattered around the island’s coastline. Near Ocho Rios is another tourist puller, the 600-foot high Dunn’s River Falls. Montego Bay, a major urban center is home to the island’s first marine park which occupies an area of 6 square miles.


Another major industry in the island nation is agriculture, which accounts for at least 6.6% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. The leading export items from the industry include coffee, sugar, and yams. However, the industry is on a decline, with many of the country’s traditional agricultural export goods such as bananas, falling out of favor in international markets. The domestic supply of cereal in the country stood at 0.48 million tons in 2013. The country’s cereal exports have experienced fluctuations since the 1990s and amounted to about 12,770 tons in 2013. On the other hand, the quantity of cereal imports into the country amounted to 0.463 million tons during the same period. Maize is the most popular cereal import commodity, with maize imports into the country during the period being valued at $82.7 million. Despite the country having about 1 million heads of livestock, animal products in the country are insufficient to meet the domestic demand, resulting in large quantities of dairy, beef, and pork imports (total meat imports were valued at $77.85 million in 2013). Half of the fish consumed in Jamaica is sourced locally, while the deficit is covered by fish imports from North America, notably Canada and the United States. Initially, some 2.5 million acres of the island was covered in forests. The figure has dropped to about 0.46 million acres. Some of the forests are the source of the country’s timber products, most of which are used as fuel. However, the government has embarked on protecting the forested areas from illegal logging and deforestation.


The mining industry is another significant economic driver in Jamaica and accounts for an estimated 4.1% of the island nation’s GDP. The country is one of the world’s largest producers of alumina and bauxite and produces over 12.6 million tons and 3.46 million tons of bauxite and alumina respectively annually. Minerals are the country’s most important export items, and alumina and bauxite accounting for more than half of all exports from Jamaica. There are an estimated 2 billion tons of bauxite reserves in the country, believed to last upto100 years. The region around the Blue Mountains is laden with huge deposits of gypsum, believed to amount to millions of tons. The country produces about 0.33 million tons of gypsum each year, with some being used domestically in the manufacture of building materials. Copper, silica, zinc, lead, and limestone are also found in significant quantities. The country has zero domestic coal production and has to import all its coal, amounting to 0.155 million short tons each year.


The manufacturing is another major industry in Jamaica, estimated to contribute 29.4% of the country’s GDP. Manufacture of textiles is one of the industry’s largest sectors and its biggest employer and accounts for about 13% of the nation’s total exports. Kingston is home to the country’s oil refinery where crude oil imported from Venezuela is refined into petroleum products such as gasoline, most of which is consumed domestically. The government is on course to establish what is known as the “Jamaica Logistical Hub Initiative,” aimed at taking advantage of its strategic position in global marine trade to become Western Hemisphere’s logistics hub, and compete with global logistical giants in Dubai and Rotterdam. The establishment of the logistical hub will boost the country’s manufacturing industry and is expected to result in the setting up of assembly plants.


Annual exports from the country amounted to $1.51 billion in 2012, where bauxite, alumina, sugar, chemicals, and coffee were the primary export commodities. The biggest markets for Jamaica’s exports are the United States, Russia, and Canada which consumed 38.7%, 8.1% and 7.8% of the country’s annual exports respectively. Annual imports to the country are higher and amounted to $5.86 billion in 2011. Jamaica’s leading import commodities include fossil fuels, machinery, agricultural goods and construction materials. The United States and Venezuela are the country’s leading import partners.


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