Jamaica is a single island located in the Greater Antilles in the north west of the Caribbean region. Its closest neighbours are Haiti, Cuba and the Cayman Islands. There is a small Caribbean community in Australia including 785 individuals born in Jamaica (2006 Census).
Australia’s High Commissioner in Port of Spain, Mr Ross Tysoe AO, holds non-resident accreditation to Jamaica. Australia also maintains a resident Honorary Consul in Jamaica. Australia opened its first and only diplomatic mission to the Caribbean in Jamaica from 1974 - 1994.
Jamaica achieved full independence from the United Kingdom in 1962. It now functions as a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy with Queen Elizabeth II as head of state, a Governor-General as representative of the Monarchy and Prime Minister as head of government.
Jamaica is a parliamentary democracy based on the Westminster system with a bicameral parliament. The House of Representatives contains 63 single-member constituencies elected for five-year terms. The Prime Minister is the head of the party with the most members elected to the House of Representatives. The Senate comprises 21 members appointed by the Governor-General: 13 on advice of the Prime Minister, eight on advice of the Leader of the Opposition. Between two and four members of the Cabinet must be drawn from the Senate. The Judiciary comprises a Supreme Court, whose judges are appointed by the Governor General on advice of the Prime Minister.
The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) was inaugurated in April 2005 to replace the British Privy Council as the highest court of appeal in the CARICOM region. The CCJ hears appeals as the court of last resort in both civil and criminal matters from those member states which have ceased to allow appeals to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Jamaica is still in a process of transitioning to the CCJ and as of January 2013, legislation had not yet been passed for it to act in its appellate Jurisdiction. Since 2011, Barbados, Belize, and Guyana have been under the jurisdiction of the CCJ.
With a population of 2.8 million (2011) and with one of the higher GDPs in the region, Jamaica plays an important role in the Caribbean. It is a senior member of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) – the region’s key political institution - and among the first countries to join the Caribbean Single Market Economy (CSME). Jamaica is also part of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, to which Australia is also a member.
Jamaica maintains an open economy that is predominately based on services sectors that account for approximately 65% of GDP. Core economic contributors include tourism, remittances and exports of bauxite and alumina. Jamaica has been a leader in the Caribbean regional integration effort, and was an original party to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Single Market Economy, which came into effect January 1, 2006.
Historically, Jamaica’s economy has been based on key primary industry exports including bananas and sugar. In the 1940’s, large commercial deposits of bauxite, limestone, bauxite, gypsum, marble, silica sand and clays were discovered, and by the 1970s, Jamaica became a world leader in the export of many of these minerals. Jamaica competes with Australia in alumina/bauxite production. The mining sector was one of the most adversely affected in the recent Global Financial Crisis (GFC). Since the 1970s, tourism has become an increasingly important economic driver, with direct revenues accounting for approximately 10% of GDP (2012). Interestingly, the tourism industry remained resilient during the GFC, experiencing a 4% increase in tourist arrivals (2012). Remittances are also a core economic sector, comprising about 10% of GDP (2012).
Despite remaining one of the larger economies in the region, Jamaica has experienced quite modest GDP growth since 2007. This has in part resulted from the adverse effects of the GFC. At the height of the GFC in 2009, Jamaica experienced a GDP contraction of just over 3%. GDP growth started again in 2011, and has hovered around 1%. One limiting feature of Jamaica’s economic recovery has been its prolonged public debt that remains around 120% of GDP (2013). High crime rates are also hindering economic growth. Jamaica maintains an unemployment rate around 14% (2012) as well as contending with broader social problems including drug trafficking and street violence. In February 2013, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced a preliminary agreement to a $750m loan to Jamaica. Final approval of the credit will be contingent on further austerity measures.
Just over 50% of Jamaica’s exports (roughly USD$800 million) are sold to the US and Canada, underscoring the significance of relationships with these neighbours. Jamaica’s imports far exceed their exports at an estimated total of USD$6 billion (2012). Key import partners include the US, Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago.
Since 2005, Jamaica has been party to Venezuela’s Petro-Caribe scheme that provides preferential or deferred payment options for purchasing oil. In the Caribbean region, only Trinidad and Tobago and Barbados have not signed onto the agreement.
Jamaica continues to play a lead role in the promotion of regional market integration. In January 2006, the CSME came into effect, allowing for the free trade of goods and services between CARICOM countries (except the Bahamas and Haiti, which have not joined the CSME) and the free movement of certain categories of labour. The Caribbean Court of Justice, sitting in its original jurisdiction, acts as a CSME disputes mechanism. Further information on the CSME can be found on the Caribbean webpage.
The Australia-Jamaica bilateral relationship is largely underpinned by sporting links, joint membership of the Commonwealth and cooperation in various international fora including the UN, the IMF and the World Bank. Australia and Jamaica align on a range of multilateral issues, including effective action on climate change and pursuit of an international Arms Trade Treaty.
Regionally, the Australian Government has sought to strengthen its ties with the Caribbean, and formally established relations with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) through a Memorandum of Understanding signed by then Prime Minister Rudd on 29 November 2009. The MOU builds on areas of mutual interest including climate change and disaster risk reduction, economic resilience, and people-to-people and institutional linkages.
Economic and trade relationship
Trade between Australia and Jamaica is modest, with the balance heavily in Australia's favour (A$11 million). In 2011-12, two-way merchandise trade between Australia and Jamaica totaled approximately A$13 million. Australian exports to Jamaica mainly comprise meat including beef. Australian imports from Jamaica are primarily alcoholic beverages. For the latest economic data, please refer to the Jamaica fact sheet [PDF 41 KB].
Updated March 2013