The Caribbean is a highly attractive destination for foreign direct investment. However, there is intense competition among countries in the region to secure increased foreign contribution. What, in your opinion, are Antigua & Barbuda’s most significant advantages compared to other countries in the region?
Antigua and Barbuda is a very safe country with a very low crime rate, and people wishing to invest will normally look at that, especially if they are going to either reside in the jurisdiction or visit the jurisdiction from time to time.
The second advantage would be the high skilled workforce. Literacy rate on the two islands is about 99%.
Many investors, to really secure their investment probably move to the location and they may have children who are yet to go to the university, so there are two very good post-secondary institutions here and particularly the American University of Antigua, which offers an excellent premedical school education to the standards of every competitive jurisdiction in the United States, but at lower price. So, that's an attractive feature to have your child at home attending this great college and then being able to go to New York and do the rest of the training there, because the two schools are accredited, that would be a third advantage. The fourth advantage would be: Where else in the world do they offer a beach for every day of the year, we have 365 beaches, and the weather of course is terrific.
The investors also would be concerned about economic stability, and one of the measure of the economic stability is the currency stability, in 1984-87, the EC dollar to US rate of exchange was 2,7, today the EC dollar to US rate of exchange is 2,7.
These are some advantages, not to mention the diversity of the population, so whatever is your cultural background, you will feel welcome in Antigua.
Many countries in the region, such as Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts & Nevis or St Lucia, also have Citizenship by Investment Programs. What sets Antigua & Barbuda’s program apart from its regional competitors?
Antigua and Barbuda in the region has the most developed infrastructure, so this is a place where you can land and immediately do business, and if you look at the regional programs, only one country in the region, only one passport offers you visa free access to Canada, and this is Antigua and Barbuda. Of course, like many others jurisdictions in the region, we also have visa free entry to Schengen countries and the UK, or together we have visa free entry to more than 130 countries.
In recent years, Antigua & Barbuda’s GDP growth has been well above the regional average (+3.2% in 2014, +3.9% in 2015). What role does the CIP play in the growth of the country, and what impact do you foresee it having on the economy in the long run?
The CIP helps both the country and the investor focus on the kind of investment that is desirable, so if for example you are investing in a business here it has to be a business approved, in other words, someone has the need and the potential of employment generation. So the CIP plays a role. Now there are times when the potential investor wants more time to survey the landscape and determine which area they are going to invest in. In most circumstances, they may well make a donation to a national development fund, and depending of the size of the funding, to be 200.000 dollars or 250.000 dollars and then they can invest wherever they want, and even if they do that this is money that is liquid, cash that can be used for development purposes, including investment in Social Services. So the CIP plays quite a crucial role I think in attracting investment, and in particular in attracting that kind of investment.
Do you work together with the government to define the developments projects?
In terms of approve business, even in approving real estate. We do the analysis, and the government gives the final approval. So we work very closely to the Government.
How does the CIP work in coordination with other institutions, such as the Investment Authority or the Tourism Board, for example, to spur investment in Antigua & Barbuda?
We don't have a direct relationship but we have an indirect relationship in the sense that we report to the minister responsible for the CIP and that minister happens to be the Prime Minister, and in many way that makes our lives easier.
The CIP has investment options in the National Development Fund (NDF), in real estate developments, and in local businesses. In what ways does each category of investments specifically contribute to Antigua & Barbuda?
Real estate obviously, under the CIP, tends to focus on high-end markets that supports tourism, and supports high-end tourism which benefits the country immensely. The NDF brings in funds that ease the burden of providing for investment, like investment in Social services, and businesses by definition would result in people being employed as real estate project would do as well. So the three of them are important to the development of the country.
The country’s CIP is fairly new; it was established in 2013. Your website lists 51 approved investment projects (43 in real estate, 8 in businesses) in addition to the NDF. What have been your biggest success stories so far in terms of helping develop Antiguan and Barbudan businesses and projects?
I think the biggest success is that we have seen an increase in very high end construction, that not only provides accommodation to investors and tourists, but it does set the standards in construction as well. Real Estate development has raised the standards in construction.
Has it raised the standard in Antigua or in the region in general?
I think that it has been raised in Antigua but in the region as well, because people make comparisons, the CIP’s talk to each other.
Does that by any means affect the local community, because it rises the standards but also the costs, is it that where NDF comes into play?
That's where the NDF comes into play but also these projects under the Citizenship by investment program, has to be in approved areas so you are not going to build a whole nation and lead to unestablished homes, families and raise the price there. So, I do think that the benefit to the locals is that their wellbeing is protected but also these projects brings revenues that benefits them and increase job opportunities.
Some of Antigua & Barbuda CIP projects, such as Callaloo Cay and Pearns Point, have garnered international attention as some of the most attractive CIP projects in the world. So what sets these specific projects apart, and what other projects come to mind as the crème de la crème in your portfolio of over 50 approved investment options?
I am reluctant to identify a particular project because I don't want to advertise for anyone. All I would say is that all the approved projects have been beneficial to the country and we are very happy to have that investment for the reasons that I have stated.
Since Prime Minister Gaston Browne’s election, the country has been making efforts to attract investors and tourists from the Middle East and Asia, with deals signed with the United Arab Emirates, as well as prominent projects such as the Yida development. Is the CIP looking to attract investors from specific countries or a specific profile, and if so, how are you reaching out to them?
We are seeking to attract investors, first of all in a manner that is safe so we want to attract investors that are going to be citizens not only of Antigua and Barbuda but of our region and because of that we invest heavily in due diligences on the processes, not only do we have a compliance to partner here that does its own due diligence on these applicants, we also engage independent private sector due diligence service providers. In addition to this we refer this to a regional organization called the Joint Regional Communication Center and on top of that we also talk to our international partners so it is a very vast and comprehensive due diligence process, and we do this because we want to be absolutely certain that our citizens by investment are absolutely first rate people who do not pose threat to Antigua or to the region or to the world. And secondly, it increases the credibility of the Antigua and Barbuda passport. Once you get that passport you know that this document is wait and go and that you can count on that passport. So we make sure that we select the very best people to become our citizens by investment.
Just a few months ago, Henley and Partners, ranked Antigua as the number one in the Caribbean and fourth in the world. Then they revised that ranking and Antigua is number one in the Caribbean and number three in the world, and there are reasons for that.
The readers of Harvard Business Review include some of the most influential business leaders and decision makers in the world. Do you have a final message for them as a conclusion to this interview?
When you are influential, you do also have a responsibility, which is not just to be philanthropic and help other people, that is important but there is another responsibility which is often forgotten and it is the responsibility to invest the time to learn from those you not normally encounter, in your day life.