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?
The main advantage Antigua and Barbuda has is the accessibility. It has links to all over the world. Besides we have this new international airport.
The Airlines have been trying to make Antigua a hub for south America, because It’d be easier to fly directly there from Antigua than from Miami or London, and South America is a huge market. The already existing links in Antigua attached to the fact of being willing to create new ones, makes Antigua a really attractive destination for investors.
If you compare Antigua and Barbuda crime’s rate with other countries in the region, you can see it is one of the safest places. That’s an incentive for investors too. This government is working a lot and launching a lot of initiatives to attract foreign investors, like the CIP programme or the taxes free environment.
The project for the expansion of the port is an important factor to take in consideration because by taking full advantage of the panama expansion, it’s going to make Antigua a very strategic transportation hub for the Eastern Caribbean.
So, all of these are the factors are what make Antigua and Barbuda attractive in comparison with other countries within the region.
Mr. Badu, after over ten years working in Antigua and having been in-charge of Customs and Excise Division since 2012, how would you summarize the Antiguan and Barbuda international trade sector today and how do you think it affects foreign investment?
A&B is a primary economic, and importing economy, we don’t manufacture anything. But realizing the potential, and taking into consideration the factors I have mention before, you can see there is lot of possibilities for manufacture activity here too. I see this could be an incentive for an investor too, to come and open a manufacturing sector based here, because we have a lot of land that can be used without even destroying our ecosystem, it could be some green field project in the area of manufacturing, there is a lot of possibilities.
You can also have a very qualified labour force, but what’s happening is that people have acquired skills and knowledge and they don’t have the opportunity here to develop them so there is a lot of immigration, especially to UK and US.
The government is working on creating opportunities and avoiding the brain drain, they have launched some informatics and IT programs to train young people in those fields.
All of these facts should create a comfortable environment for any investors coming here for Business.
Some of the main responsibilities of The Customs & Excise Division include facilitating trade and the movement of persons within the country, the effective collection of revenues and the protection of the country’s borders. Could you tell us a little bit more about how the division carries out these functions and also your priorities as Comptroller?
If you remember how was the division 4 or 5 years ago, it was like gatekeeping but because of the increase in global trade and movement of persons, and the expansion of the transportation systems, this gatekeeping system is no longer valid.
Nowadays we are committed to implement the trade solutions practices. Customs have an important role in facilitating trade, collecting revenues and protecting the country’s borders but also in international security. But security is one of the biggest issues customs is dealing with. You have a lot of processes before goods come from station A to station B, and 3 or 4 years ago we didn’t have the skills set and capacity needed to apply all the protocols.
Since 2012 we have been trying to reform the customs division. In the reformation, we have been focusing on protocols, trade facility issues and capacity building within the company of the customs.
As the comptroller of customs, my main priority is to maintain a balance in the three main responsibilities of the divisions, but that is hard and that’s why we have needed help from some international organizations, like CARTAC (Caribbean regional Technical Assistance Centre).
We are always trying to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our operations and that’s why we have just introduced in our system the ASYCUDA platform, which will help the customs division to operate in a more efficient and effective way.
People thinks that customs is all about profits, but that way of thinking has to change. We are transforming Customs in an accessible and friendlier division, which works not only for collecting revenues, but also for helping people, facilitate trade, the movement of people and guarantee the security of the country’s borders.
As you know, Antigua has been the latest of the Caricom member states to introduce the ASYCUDA platform into its operations Do you think is it going to have an impact on foreign trade? What kind of impact?
Yes, it will increase at least by 20%. Because just that single fact, is going to take us a lot of discussions. It will help us to do a lot of trade facilitations.
The improvement of trade facilitations and knowing that customs is taxes-free will definitely be another incentive for many investors.
One of the Customs & Excise Division’s objectives is to make Antigua & Barbuda a competitive destination for air, sea, passenger and cargo. How do you communicate to the international business and investment communities that Antigua is in fact a competitive destination in order to foster further international trade with the twin islands?
We have a website, it’s quite new, and we post everything that happens to customs, procedures and protocols, there. Also, for the ASYCUDA platform we did a lot of promotion.
International investors have access to all of this.
You have currently been the comptroller of the Customs and Excise Division for the last four years. During this period, what accomplishments are you most proud of? What have been the biggest challenges?
I’m proud of the dramatic change customs has brought and how we managed to make it happen. I cannot say I am satisfied yet, because there are a lot of things to do and the change is taking a little bit more than I expected.
The achievements would be the introduction of this new culture and way of working that as you can see, have increased the revenues. We are also proud of all the improvements in the borders security, because there have been a lot and we made a huge change in that aspect compare with the borders security situation 3 or 4 years ago.
To conclude the interview, the readers of HBR include some of the most influential business leaders and decision makers in the world. What final message would you like to send regarding Antigua & Barbuda and the Customs and Excise Division?
The message I want to send is that, some of the readers might have known Antigua before, but this is not the same Antigua, it has changed. Customs and Excise Division has positively changed and is waiting for you to come and invest here. We can assure you that it will be a good investment.