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JAM | May 17, 2023

Lisa Hanna | Think big, go global, Jamaica

/ Our Today

Reading Time: 19 minutes
Lisa Hanna speaking at the Jamaica Diaspora Conference in Kingston on June 16, 2022. (Photo: Facebook @MPLisaHanna)

A main theme of Opposition Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Lisa Hanna’s Sectoral Debate presentation was the need for Jamaica to look beyond a market of just 3 million people.

Below is her full address:

Madam Speaker – I have a confession. When the sectoral debate dates were announced, and the Leader of Opposition business showed them to me, I shrugged and gave them back to him. I was not interested this time around.

I had felt that we waste our time coming annually to speak and have no way of making any impact, mainly because the process is backward.

In other words, I believe these presentations should be done before the estimates of expenditure to inform where our priorities should be for the next financial year while establishing a modern bi-partisan vision for our country, taking the best suggestions from both sides and coming to a consensus on how the plans to achieving the vision should be funded.

So yes, I was indifferent to giving another annual sectoral debate.

Why? Because courage has a responsibility.

But despite my reluctance and frustration, I also recognised that it is in moments like these that one has to dig deepest and muster every ounce of courage to get back up again regardless of their personal emotions and feelings.

It may be perceived as unreasonable, and often, it requires us to do what’s right versus what’s expedient, even if it means we should stand alone on our principles. But courage has an obligation to pave new roads, especially for the generations coming behind us – so that when we are gone, they can say: “They were ahead of their time.”

So, today I boldly rise again in this honorable house for yet another moment (perhaps my last moment) because Jamaica and improving the lives of all Jamaicans is more important than my indignation of resignation to say nothing – especially now.

The headquarters of Jamaica’s Parliament, Gordon House in downtown Kingston. (Photo: Twitter @PressSecOPMJA)

Madam Speaker – the world’s geopolitical tectonic plates are shifting daily, impacting human connections globally.

Historically, they’ve been significant moments when they moved – However, those periods were precise, exacting, and loud. They would stop the world—for example, Hitler’s invasion of Europe, the assassination of JFK, and MLK. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, and the attack on the World Trade Centre are a few of our lifetimes.

Most recently, it was the COVID pandemic that altered our existence as we knew it, however, unlike those previous events, which gave us pause for greater self-reflection—to regroup and move forward toward better human connectivity—after COVID, things have gone right back to normal with events moving simultaneously in real-time at an extreme pace.

Global inflation, and right beside us, a civil war in Haiti.

Today, neither race, geography, class, capital, or global political leadership can stop events from spiraling because of social media.

From Black Lives Matter (BLM), the unending war in Europe between Russia and Ukraine,LGBTQ+ rights, global banks’ too big to fail’ crashing, the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI), there are so many displacing events that have audiences worldwide perplexed.

Those who are not disturbed are apathetic and dissonant. I believe these consequences in human behaviour have created gaps in how we live with one another globally and right here at home, similar to a matrix (alternate universe) that people gravitate to.

Jamaicans are frustrated from hustling daily, waiting on their elected leaders to deliver good water and roads, and worrying about how far their salary will carry them for the month.

Madam Speaker, many of us in here are frustrated, too, recognising how long it takes to deliver essential development to the people who elected us.

But the truth is, more of the same usually gives you more of the same!

I’ve said repeatedly that we will never have real economic growth and prosperity for our people if we only sell to our 3 million population.

We must think globally to transform our country into a value-added export-led economy that sells goods and services to the rest of the world.

However, Jamaica has been pursuing the same path for a long time without real, meaningful results for our people. Yes, all the statistics indicate that our marcoeconomic indicators are heading in the right direction. Our balance sheet seems to be on the right track. Yet significant economic growth still eludes us, and it is all too marginalised, which negatively impacts the purchasing power of most of our people for far too long.

The downtown business district of Kingston shimmering at dusk from the vantage point of Port Royal, across the harbour, in December 2016. (Photo: Flickr.com)

When we look at the changing skyline in Kingston, we see massive capital expenditure on commercial and residential construction. But we don’t see the economic base which will support the salaries needed to purchase these places and rent the buildings. Without real value-added industries, this expenditure is not sustainable.

This capital needs redirection into new and innovative industries that will give Jamaica a global competitive edge. The economic model we have been chasing, expecting small businesses to grow into medium size businesses and, in the long term, become big businesses, is not working!

We cannot compete in trade with small businesses on the world stage. In other words, we cannot ask nor expect small farmers to supply international markets unless we restructure our entire agricultural mindset and have processing plants urgently that meet international standards creating the demand for small farmers to supply.

Our habitual thinking has remained the same. We are holding on to old beliefs and systems that haven’t allowed us to make quantum leaps forward as a country. We only have faith in the familiar, never looking for the paradoxical move, never breaking down probable boundaries, and never radically challenging all the odds to present a better version of ourselves.

Our responsibility as policymakers is to create the economic climate and mindset that will grow the Jamaican economy in a way that increases the per capita income for all our citizens; the time to act is now. It is time we take the risk and invest our capital in value-added agriculture, medical/wellness tourism, casinos, and Jamaica as the creative entertaining hub of the world are industries we should aggressively build out.

Monetising culture

Madam Speaker, thinking big and globally can be daunting to many people, primarily if they have only operated in small circles. Furthermore, most of us have been raised to ‘play it safe,’ or a bird in the hand is worth more than two in the bush.’ In other words, we were not taught to be risk-takers, especially in times of uncertainty.

The crowd could not contain their excitement at the Ranny Williams Entertainment Centre in Kingston as the 2022 Guinness Sounds of Greatness kicked into high dancehall gear last Saturday, July 2, 2022. (Photo contribted)

This is where effective leadership comes in. First, we must have the courage to quell anxiety, reveal the bigger picture, and explain why it is essential to pursue it, seeing uncertainty as an opportunity to shape the future fate of Jamaica.

Madam Speaker, the creative economy contributes approximately 6.1 per cent to the global gross domestic product (GDP), averaging between two per cent and seven per cent of the GDP worldwide. In addition, the United Nations estimates that the creative economy industries generate annual revenues of over US$2 trillion and nearly fifty million global jobs. And has the potential “to support countries with economies in transition in diversifying production and exports…”

Half of these workers are women, and in areas engaging more people between the ages 15-29 than any other sector. Television and the visual arts make up the major areas of the creative economy in terms of revenue. While visual arts and music are the largest industries in terms of employment.

Over the years, successive PNP and JLP governments have viewed culture as a mere season of ad hoc activities intended to make our people feel nice, but not as a serious industry requiring stimuli that could significantly grow our economy and better our people’s lives.

Both sides have reluctantly acted with conviction and financial devotion towards strengthening and developing our people’s creative skills and deepening our cultural infrastructure.

In the last financial year, culture as a line item in the recurrent budget received only 5.2 per cent of the total budget compared to tourism, which received 13.5 per cent. Compensation and travel represented the bulk of expenditure, with little to drive any meaningful change.

The capital budget for culture was the lowest of all ministries, almost zero, a total of $31.8 million or 3.7 per cent. This year is the worst, as there are no real recurrent increases for programmes nor blue pages, i.e., capital expenditure for new projects. Why?

The world is massive, with 7.8 billion people, and Jamaica, with .038 per cent of the population, is relatively minuscule in the scale of things. Yet our size has never prevented us from making a mammoth impact on the world stage with an influence more than 1,000 times our population.

We must allocate more resources to build out the framework to transform the cultural teaching framework within our school system with a sustained capital budget to fund harnessing, developing, and strengthening the cultural value chain of our people’s lives rather than the focus on spending primarily on celebratory activities. This will not only assist in the social transformation of our nation by giving our children a consistent diet of artistic skills training for their future which would, in turn, strengthen their Jamaican identity and, ultimately, the viability of the brand Jamaica.

Jamaican short film ‘Absolute Power’ producer Julene Kenyon and director Gemmar McFarlane. (Photo: UNICEF)

Madam Speaker, we must also give the necessary tools in primary schools to train our children in the cultural arts, painting, sculpting, photography, dance, and formal music training. And construct two globally competitive performance/creative arts-based high schools, one in Kingston and the other in the West, with the attendant boarding facilities to rival some of the best in the world.

Our last significant investments in cultural performance spaces were in 1912 and 1958, with The Ward and Little Theatre in the Corporate Area alone.

We have many proud achievements to celebrate, especially with our musical impact on the world and highly sought culture; and brilliant performances by our athletes worldwide. Our athletes have achieved international success largely because we have outlined a path for growth from high school to the world stage. It starts with identifying talent in high school, then to champs, unto CARIFTA games, Pan American Games, World Juniors, the Diamond League, the World Games, and finally, The Olympics. We need a similar infrastructure for the development of our culture and music.

More than forty years ago, Bob Marley paved the way for us internationally; what have we done to assist the musical talent that has come after him?

We have not even debated my motion to declare him a national hero. Yet, some still do not know he was born in Jamaica.

Late reggae legend Bob Marley. (Photo contributed)

It’s time to press reset, to be courageous, and move away from doing the temporary assignments of what’s popular to do what’s right. If we fail, our indigenous and intrinsic cultural footprint on the world may wash away with another’s tide.

Therefore, we must build the infrastructure to foster artistic innovation and provide creative opportunities, benefits, and empowerment for all Jamaicans. The much talked about casinos, but nothing implemented is vital to supply demand and showcase our food, musical, and artistic talents. Our goal should be to have every Jamaican proficient with creative skills and realise the financial potential of these skills.

Jamaican luxury for growth globally

Madam Speaker, the global market for personal luxury goods rose by five per cent between 2019 and 2021 (The Wall Street Journal, 2021). Shoppers under 40 accounted for more than 60 per cent of luxury purchases worldwide in 2022, and estimated to jump to 70 percent of their purchases worldwide by 2025 (Reuters, 2021).

LVMH’s market value surpassed US$500 billion this month. It became the first European company to reach that milestone, thanks to booming sales of luxury goods in China and a strengthening euro. Increasing the wealth of the world’s richest person, fashion tycoon Bernard Arnault to nearly US$212 billion. (Bloomberg Billionaires Index)

Bernard Arnault owns LVMH, a massive conglomerate of luxury brands with 75 labels ranging from Dom Perignon, Louis Vuitton, Moët, Tiffany & Co. Hennessy, Fendi, Christian Dior, and Givenchy.

Bernard Arnault, chief executive of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE, attends the company’s shareholders meeting in Paris, France, April 18, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Benoit Tessier/File)

What is baffling is that amid the global impact of increased inflation, rising interest rates, and the noise about a looming recession, the demand for luxury products, particularly LVMH products — Louis Vuitton handbags, Moet & Chandon Champagne, and Christian Dior continues to grow. And I guess the personal need for luxury will be a mainstay as young people see them as status symbols of success.

So since luxury is booming globally, why isn’t Jamaica taking advantage of it?

We have luxury niches that the world would want. So how haven’t we seen this vision clearly to refashion our economic policies to meaningfully incentivize local manufacturers towards economies of scale for export production targeting the global luxury marketplace?

In many instances, the costs of importing the inputs for production are prohibitive for them to compete with price globally.

Take local stationary company Topp In Designx Ltd. Recently, its owner Sheri-Ann Toppin, spoke with me and lamented being the first Jamaicans to have participated at the US National Stationary Show Expo at the Javitz Center in New York. Five of their creations were nominated in four categories out of 800 submissions made by other stationers. Their designs also made it to the new product section on display at the entrance to the show, which generated significant interest from large and boutique luxury retailers.

However, the cost to import raw materials, made their export production uncompetitive: “We just could not compete with cost, which for me was devastating as we had a good product which was in demand worldwide, but it was just not feasible to export from Jamaica.”

Sheri-Ann is not the only local manufacturer that could become a global luxury sensation.

But we continue to dither, not looking at the big picture for our country. Our coffee is a prime example.

Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is a luxury product. It is regarded as the best and most expensive globally due to the exact conditions for growing coffee (dangerous slopes over 3,000 feet) and the extensive quality control associated with reaping it.

We must position our Blue Mountain Coffee amid other sophisticated luxury brands with an ongoing global advertising campaign similar to how we market our tourism industry using selected international celebrities with the brand cache.

Blue Mountain Coffee should already be on the pages of exclusive fashion and business magazines in London, Milan, Paris, and New York while catering to luxury shoppers in China.

To be called Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee, it must be grown at altitudes of up to 1,800 metres in the parishes of Portland, St Andrew, St Mary and St Thomas. (Photo: Blue Mountain Coffee Jamaica)

Why not reach out to LVMH and partner with one of their signature brands? For example, if you buy a Louis Vuitton handbag, you get a special limited edition Blue Mountain half-pound of ground coffee. But it means we must have the consistent supply.

Nestlé Nespresso offers an exclusive Jamaica Blue Mountain edition for US$2.00 per capsule of coffee (1.35 oz). It is the most expensive with the marketing: “Get lost in the sip on the misty slopes of the Blue Mountains…” is how this premium brand is sold online.

Moreover, our tourism services have remained virtually the same for decades. Now is the moment to upscale our services and incorporate our creative, cultural, and music offerings into calendar destination packages for the luxury tourist seeking diverse experiences.

In 2020, Trinidad and Tobago recorded 37,861 visitors to its annual Carnival with an estimated spend of TT$458.12 million. (The Daily Express, January 2023)

The global wellness industry generated US$4.4 trillion in 2020. At the same time, tourism wellness did US$463 billion.

Today, health, fitness, nutrition, and cosmetics are big global business/revenue earners as purveyors seek worldwide relaxation, beauty, and peace of mind. [For example], the global cosmetic industry will grow to approximately US$465 billion by 2027.

Moreover, the global medical tourism market accounted for US$104.68 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach US$273.72 billion by 2027. Now more than ever, Jamaica must develop a medical and wellness tourism sector to capitalize on this growing global trend.

We are ideally suited to become a leader in this sector globally. However, we lack proactive speed in government policy and an intense focus to succeed in this industry. The mindset required to take advantage of this opportunity must begin with removing all customs duties on medical equipment.

With ongoing rapid advances in medical technology, diagnostic equipment becomes obsolete very fast. Therefore, imposing customs duties on medical equipment is counter-productive for our overall healthcare sector.

The Government would get more from the income tax charged on the doctors versus the one-off duty charge for the importation of first-generation, advanced technological equipment needed to create the necessary facilities. This would naturally develop into public-private partnerships and redound to the best interest of Jamaica’s overall health care system as it would also give more Jamaicans access to modern equipment at lower costs. In addition, incentivising doctors to build their capacity could lessen the pressure on the public sector.

If we developed this industry, it would ensure that our best and brightest medical minds are kept in Jamaica and not leave the country based on the frustrating working conditions.

Jamaica must act urgently and strategically pick the highest-demand niches for the future and go all-in. If we don’t, we will only continue to dabble, receiving mediocre, low-paying stopover arrivals in tourism to brag about brand Jamaica without truly optimising what’s possible for meaningful spending in our economy. The global luxury market is booming. It’s time we carve out a price and take advantage of it with Jamaican products and services.

Support our farmers, grow efficiently, and export for wealth creation

There are over 200,000 farmers in Jamaica, representing the largest source of employment.

Logically, if we improve the incomes of our farmers, we’ll strengthen their purchasing power which will, in turn, drive growth in our entire economy. Therefore, our goal should be to improve the standard of living for our small farmers and increase employment and income in all sectors of the economy through their linkages with other sectors.

A St Elizabeth farmer at work in the field with bags of Irish potatoes.

I know I have sounded like a public service announcement on repeat. However, Jamaican agriculture is one of the few global sectors we can compete reliably. And yet, we kept treating it with the same mindset for over one hundred years ago when the banana ship left our shores to the United Kingdom in 1901.

The fact is that despite the invention of the refrigerated container in 1930, our agricultural base, rationale, and leadership have not changed in nearly one hundred years, and our agri-exports have declined is shameful.

Moving forward, we should be laser focused and support agricultural products with export markets and value-added potential. Our pepper, ginger, mango, cocoa, coffee, ackee, papaya, romaine lettuce, avocados, sea island cotton, and organic beef could give us the best global competitive advantage because of our unique Jamaican taste profile.

Jamaican scotch bonnett peppers are a key ingredient for Spur Tree Spices—all of which are sourced locally. (Photo: Facebook @SpurTreeSpices)

However, we have a protectionist market mindset which has caused us to be a producer of samples for export. Furthermore, we have not focused enough on building proactive approaches in international trade, as we consistently import four times more than we export.

Our prevailing policy has resulted in reduced exports, an outdated rationale in crop selection, unstable pricing for farmers and consumers, no cold storage, no secondary processing of primary produce, and no new technology. Worse, we still dump more than 30 per cent of our small farmer’s production due to a mismatch between demand and supply.

Other countries have increased their people’s wealth by one hundred percent within ten years. Here are a few examples: The United Arab Emirates (with non-oil exports), Vietnam, Panama, Ghana, Columbia, and the Dominican Republic. They are several more, but Jamaica is underperforming based on our brand value, a strategic location close to North America, and rich soil, which bring out some of the best agricultural flavours in our foods. But the immense potency of our culture and music, our island’s beauty, and our people’s inherent talent give Jamaican products a global edge for consumption.

The Dominican Republic and Costa Rica models

The fifty-year-old concept of “eat what you grow and grow what you eat” we have relied on is not a comprehensive plan in today’s globalized world. Rather, it’s a slogan that promotes the view that the agriculture business must only be focused inward, not outward. However, most Jamaicans believe that if we find a way to feed ourselves, growing everything we need will give us food security by making food more affordable and stopping our reliance on food imports.

Unfortunately, this philosophy is wrong, especially in today’s global economy, as it feeds the notion that we can produce every agricultural product cost-effectively. Conditions such as terrain, the scale of production, and technology all play a significant role in cost determination. For example, we will never be able to produce rice effectively.

Furthermore, the import substitution models we have been pursuing for decades which should give the producer a guaranteed local market with the expectation that they will use that market to become efficient and then export is now working. Because in reality, this has only created monopolies that have incentivised large local producers to take advantage of the local market through higher prices while ignoring the export market.

It does not support small farmers and has driven them further and further away from prosperity as they can neither compete with the prominent players locally nor produce enough to export globally. This is why our per capita income has been almost stagnant over many years.

Therefore, our agricultural policy must be more suitable for a global, technology-driven world. Maybe rather than subliminally seduce people continuously with the mantra “eat what we grow and grow what we eat,” we should replace it with “support our farmers, grow efficiently, and export for Jamaica’s wealth creation” instead.

The world has changed in the 50 years we sang that song , and perhaps relevant at the time to improve local production, its time for us to adapt to the new world of globalisation, as the world will not be adapting to us.

We should use objective economic criteria to determine the crops we focus on and drive them. Our economies of scale, and terrain, won’t allow us to be globally competitive in every product. Therefore, we must have selection criteria for their justification.

For example, the global demand for hot sauce, which was US$4.31 billion in 2020, is illustrated by undersupplying our export opportunities, which is expected to reach approximately US$6 billion by 2026.

If we structured our focus to have our farmers plant hot peppers with guaranteed prices for export, our farmers could’ve made at least three times as much per acre rather than growing cabbage or Irish potatoes.

Imagine if Jamaica implemented systems whereby we had the factories to export plantain and banana chips like Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic.

Most of the plantain and banana chips we buy off our shelves are manufactured by the DR and our close neighbors, Costa Rica.


Because these countries have not only the supply of primary produce but also the economies of scale for production to satisfy the global demand. As a result, some local companies produce their products in these countries and distribute them through Jamaican labeling. If we copied their model, then our farmers would know that they could plant as many plantains and have a guaranteed market And price all year round.

Why have we not been able to replicate these models in Jamaica?

This is why I salute the investors in the new $60 billion Bamboo project in Westmoreland, which is the kind of investment Jamaica needs; it uses Jamaica’s raw materials, is capitalised at a level to meet international production standards, and focused on the export of the product to the world market.

Therefore, I am urging the GOJ to work with BipProducts Jamaica to use idle sugarcane land for farming bamboo. I understand 25,000 acres are required for the project to go live. This will be one of Jamaica’s most important exports, long-term contracts. Moreover, over 1,000 farmers will earn directly through planting bamboo as a part of the sustainable supply chain, with a spinoff surplus of 10Mw of biomass power to JPS.

The fact is Jamaica has the resources to do better. Still, we need a different focus with a fresh set of agriculture objectives ensuring that: efficient farmers make a good standard of living, with guaranteed prices for farmers on priority crops, support for export agriculture and value-added products, lower food prices for Jamaicans and building a school feeding programme to maximise the use of local produce.

The courage to do things differently!

Madam Speaker, I am grateful for my opportunities. Thirty years ago, I graced the world’s stage labelled Jamaican and won. I thank my beautiful family, son, husband, mother, and very close friends, whom I love dearly – here and abroad.

I give thanks for being able to serve my country for nearly two decades through the beautiful and hard-working people I represent in South East St Ann. I give thanks for my experiences in this House, having been able to serve under three Prime

Ministers and my colleagues who I continue to learn from on this side on that side, and I am thankful that despite my rebelliousness – my party leader continues to give me a pass to be who I am.

Madam Speaker, I was born, schooled, and given all my life this far to Jamaica.

I am not unique – all of us have this within us.

I am Jamaican first – every time and all the time – blessed with a feisty courageous spirit, a fierce character imbued with acts of mobilisation with an assertive and unapologetic resolve – defiant in the face of overpowering opposition that no one should ever bludgeon into acquiescence my hopes to improve my life and the lives of others.

Our leaders’ character propelled Jamaica to stand first in the global fight to end apartheid, choose South-South cooperation, establish diplomatic ties with China and Cuba when it was detrimental in the West, listen, and give social dignity to the masses during the 1970s.

Moreover, our leaders have held firmly to dynamic Jamaican international activism, always principally standing up for the underdog, never hedging our bets when there is blatant right or wrong locally and internationally.

Madam Speaker our preferential trade agreements under the Petro Caribe Fund, graciously provided by the government of Venezuela, represents the largest loan with the best financial terms in our independent history. At a one per cent interest rate, Venezuela provided Jamaica with more than US$3 billion. Moreover, the Venezuelan Government went even further and accepted a US$1.5 billion (50 per cent) settlement of our debt in July 2015, reducing our debt-to-GDP ratio significantly and helping improve our international financial standing in aggregate terms.

Madam Speaker, Jamaica’s economic survival has been due in no small measure to the support and generosity of the Venezuelan people. But then, in late 2017 or early 2018, the GOJ compulsorily took back 49 per cent of the shares held by PDV Caribe, a subsidiary of the Venezuelan state-owned firm Petroleos de Venezuela (PdVSA). Then Venezuela sued the GOJ. The case is not settled and seems to be in abeyance indefinitely. Meanwhile, Venezuela continues to export oil to St. Vincent and other Caribbean countries, and we are buying oil from all over, not at the best prices. SIGH

A worker collects a crude oil sample at an oil well operated by Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA in Morichal. Photo taken July 28, 2011. (Photo: REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File)

We must never abandon our friends neither Venezuela nor the USA, or be seen under any circumstance to do the bidding of others to enforce their dominion on another sovereign nation.

Furthermore, I cannot understand why we have not been more fearless in our advocacy in rallying our allies to assist Haiti and act as a formidable interlocutor to have the US release its embargo on Cuba. Our history calls on us to unrelentingly lead CARICOM in helping our neighbours.

Where has our character of friendship in our foreign diplomacy gone?

We must be willing and able to provide visionary leadership to our Caribbean, Commonwealth, and ACP colleagues with a pro-active, operationalised foreign affairs and foreign trade policy that’s courageous, strategic, and principled.

So even though the world is changing rapidly, this is critical moment for resetting and repositioning who we are and what we want – a unique moment in our time.

Madam speaker, we have a moment to start listening again, to start acting; to be unabashed about who we are and what we believe in.

The Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) Georgetown headquarters in Guyana. (Photo: CARICOM.org)

A moment which must rekindle our soul for global humanity and give our people connected hope for a better future to feel calm about their activism yet emboldened to fight for causes greater than themselves as they eschew the hypocrisy of political correctness while building industries to compete globally.

Madam Speaker, there is a fierce, urgent moment now, and we must seize it. If we continue to turn a blind eye and not care about changing our mindsets to make a quantum leap on behalf of Jamaica- then the Republic we all seek may look and feel like one belonging to a banana variety.

Thank you. 


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