Antigua & Barbuda, as well as other countries in the region, is working to promote and attract foreign investment. What would you say is Antigua & Barbuda’s competitive advantage compared to other countries in the region?
We are committed. The policy position is to make Antigua and Barbuda the model financial centre in the region. As a result, our focus is on ensuring we have in place the most appropriate set of legislation and that our regulations are as advanced as possible and in compliance with international standards. We have a strong, sound and stable environment in which our domestic and international entities can operate. Antigua was a pioneer from the onset in international financial services so we have history in this sector. We have well-trained individuals who have been in the sector for many years so that certainly is a competitive advantage for us.
The financial sector in Antigua is diversified and competitive. How does the FSRC collaborate with the different domestic and international financial entities operating within the sector to ensure a fair and equally competitive environment for all institutions?
One of our primary roles is to collaborate with the government and advise them on the most appropriate policy direction that should be taken and is in compliance with international trends. We also collaborate with the various sectors so at least once a year there are meetings with the sectors. We communicate with them about what is happening in terms of regulations, what changes need to be made to ensure we are aligned with international requirements. Antigua and Barbuda is determined to be a little more innovative and cutting edge than its competitors in its efforts to provide the products and services that meet the needs of investors who are seeking a stable, well regulated and competitive jurisdiction. FSRC’s role in this effort is to ensure continued confidence in our stability, consistency, and robust yet enabling legislative environment. That is one way we make Antigua and Barbuda stand apart from other international financial services centres.
Mrs Sheppard: In support of what the chair said, we do try to collaborate with all of the stakeholders. We collaborate at a national level with the various supervisory authorities and we are charged with the responsibility for ensuring that there is a sound legal framework in which people can operate. Also, as for our direct mandate, we supervise all of the financial sectors except for the domestic banks, which come under the purview of the East Caribbean Central Bank, so for example, the FSRC has direct regulatory oversight for international banking and insurance, gaming, credit unions, and non-bank financial institutions.
Antigua and Barbuda was one of the first jurisdictions to license interactive gaming and wagering companies in 1994. The United States’ efforts to prosecute foreign-based suppliers of online gambling services severely affected the country’s economy. How is the FSRC working nowadays in order to revitalize and promote this sector or to capitalize on other initiatives that present opportunities?
The FSRC would have been affected but the Commission is not engaged in redeveloping the sector. While gaming is still legal and part of the services that we provide licenses for, it is the position of the government and the Commission that any entity that is licensed by us must provide its services to jurisdictions where it is legal. While the government continues to seek a resolution to this matter, the FSRC focuses on ensuring that the gaming operators holding an Antigua and Barbuda license are in compliance with our laws and the laws in any jurisdictions to which they offer services.
Mrs Sheppard: While it is not in the Commission’s mandate to promote gambling, in recognition of the public demand for gambling services, the growth of gambling types and the need to address the public policy issues around this type of activity, the Commission has facilitated the drafting of a new Gambling Act which establishes a Gaming Authority. The Gambling Act, passed in 2016 following a series of consultations with stakeholders, will take effect in January 2017. The Act is intended to provide a scheme of regulation that provides appropriate safeguards and controls in accordance with international best practice in the regulation and supervision of all forms of gambling.
So what would you say to someone who may be interested in investing in gaming in Antigua and Barbuda?
There are many different markets so a number of our licensed gaming operators provide services in Asia and to some extent Europe. Wherever interactive gaming is legal, our licensed operators can seek to access those jurisdictions so we would say to anyone interested in getting a license here, which I must point out is the premier license for interactive gaming, we welcome them to contact the Commission for all the information needed to apply for an Antigua and Barbuda gaming license. Though the sector has been severely impacted by the actions taken by the United States, there is still strong interest in our license and Antigua and Barbuda continues to offer many opportunities for interactive gaming and wagering companies.
Besides gaming, what other opportunities do you see for investors?
We just enacted a new international banking act that focuses on affording the operators of international banks an opportunity to contribute to the economy and to do so within a sound, well-regulated but flexible environment. Our country regularly faces the challenge of being labelled as a tax haven but we continue to point out that this label is inaccurate. We provide opportunities for individuals who want to invest in the region and our country but always within the confines of the law and in compliance with international standards. Based on this new Act, our focus is to indicate that we are a competitive financial services centre – we are a low tax, not a no tax, jurisdiction.
The readers of Harvard Business Review include many of the world’s most powerful influential businessmen/women. What message would you like to send them?
Antigua and Barbuda is open for business. We are sound and strong, and our currency has been pegged to the US dollar for over 30 years so there is financial stability and some certainty as it relates to a return on investment. As our Prime Minister has indicated on many occasions, we are open to, and we welcome, new investors and we will ensure that we have in place the appropriate legislation and enabling environment for those who choose to come and contribute to the development of Antigua and Barbuda. The role of the Commission in that is to ensure that at all times – no matter what our government is pursuing in terms of policies - we provide the appropriate advice and guidance in terms of what the legislative framework ought to be. This framework must always align with international standards. The Prime Minister always stresses the need to be early adopters so we are focused on ensuring we are ready to move ahead with the Common Reporting Standards. We have already signed onto FATCA and we are not, and do not intend to find ourselves on any blacklists that could harm the perception of our country as a strong jurisdiction that is well on its way to becoming the foremost financial services centre in the region. Our experience, the capabilities of our people and our commitment to establishing and maintaining the most suitable environment for a strong international financial services centre is what will continue to set us apart.