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Analysis: PR should look to other countries to put economy on stronger track

Puerto Rico needs to look toward other economic strategies to pick up the pieces and get back on track after Hurricane María’s devastation. (Credit: © Mauricio Pascual)

Puerto Rico’s economic model must change its old ways and look to what has worked for other countries other than the United States to regain traction and truly compete on a global scale, according to an analysis by economic firm H. Calero Consulting.

Given that help from the U.S. government has been somewhat slow to come after the devastation caused by Hurricane María last September, and Puerto Rico cannot rely on issuing public debt any longer, then the island will have to make structural changes to attract foreign investments.

First, it needs to upgrade and overhaul its electric power grid, which was pretty much destroyed by the hurricane, as well as highways, ports, water facilities, and telecommunication systems.

“Almost four months after the disaster, Puerto Rico faces a more challenging situation compared with the weeks after María,” the latest edition of the firm’s “Pulse” newsletter stated.

“We have a broken infrastructure, lack external financing, tensions with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Treasury regarding the implementation of the Community Disaster Loans (CDL), a Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico that does not have a development plan nor a revitalization plan, and massive outmigration,” the firm noted.

Deploying a new development plan for Puerto Rico will require technology and an electric power sector with systems, regulation, and infrastructure that encourage business creation and increases the island’s competitiveness.

“This requires: low electricity prices, stability through a resilient grid, diversified generation, continued investment, privatization, and technology,” the firm added.

The island also needs to diversify its electricity generation, as countries like New Zealand have done. Also an island, New Zealand generates 81 percent of its electricity with renewable resources.

But all of the changes that Puerto Rico needs are costly, requiring billions that will likely come from outside investments. Countries where investment caused structural changes in their economies include: Estonia, Ireland, and Peru.

Estonia, with a population of 1.3 million, ranks among the most digitally advanced countries in the world. The country combined privatizations with government-led advances in education, business and digital citizenship.

“After its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the country decided that the online economy and massive technological innovation was the way forward for a small country with no natural resources. Estonia is expected to get a 100-to-one return on investment for its e-Residency program, which allows any person to start a business from afar,” the analysis noted, adding it got funding from public or public-private foundations to deploy its initiatives.

Meanwhile, Peru implemented a privatization program in 1993, when it auctioned off virtually all of its state-owned companies over a short span — including oil, electric, telephone, mining, airport, ports, and railroad companies.

The country also simplified its tax system, which required a new code and a new constitution.

“The sources of funding were revenues of the privatization program and after all its reforms, Peru regained access to the market and could sell bonds,” H. Calero Consulting said in its report.

Finally, Ireland — often compared to Puerto Rico when it comes to its manufacturing sector — benefited from a large number of foreign companies that have chosen it as a location for European expansion, mainly due to a low corporate tax rate of 12.5 percent and other competitiveness factors, such as a comparatively high level of workers with post-secondary education, more affordable office space, large multinational presence, judicial independence, no barriers to establish a new business, and ranks number one in Foreign direct investment technology transfer.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.


  1. José J. Villamil January 29, 2018

    True, there is much to learn from a benchmarking exercise and even more by identifying best practices that are relevant to Puerto Rico’s conditions. What we cannot overlook is the fact that ours is a regional economy with – whether one likes it or not – more in common with Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) than national economies. In 2016, the Department of Economic Development and Commerce sponsored a study that not only considered national experiences (Singapore, Finland, Ireland, Chile) but also sub-national experiences such as Allegheny County and others that have been successful in overcoming loss of their productive base and population.

    As I wrote in early 2016, Puerto Rico has gone through a destructuring process and recovery will require a very different approach than is required to come out of a typical recession. In our case, much of the institutional infrastructure has been rendered obsolete and in some cases actually causes the Island’s economy to regress. Examining sub-national experiences in the U.S. and elsewhere made it clear that the role of non-government initiatives has been crucial in creating the broadly based support needed for development initiatives. In other words, government is not necessarily the main driver in many cases.

    In any case, agree that we need to look at other experiences and H. Calero’s note is welcome.

  2. Richard R. Tryon January 29, 2018

    There is only one track left for PR. Its called Estado Libre y Asociado with its former owner! A negotiated friendly divorce from the enforced marriage of 1898. Let the old PR, called a Commonwealth in English to hide the partner’s idea needed by the U.N. to show the U.S. to not be a new Colonial Empire.

    Let the old PR sell its physical assets without any regulatory or monopoly rights to any new owner.Let the Court decide who gets anything and organize a new and real Estado Libre y Asociado Make it free of bureaucratic-constipation by limiting its government as the original U.S. Constitution framers clearly intended, but with language that no Supreme Court can interpret to make political careers so profitable.

    Give the people freedom to compete for importing retirees that can live sans hunger or freezing using new food producing and power technologies to be competitive with other providers of space and safe living with high quality health support.


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