It’s been just over 100 days and $3 billion in investment committed since The Honorable Gaston Browne was sworn in as Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, at 47, the youngest leader in the twin-island nation’s 33 years of independence.
Having led a Labour Party victory after a decade in opposition taking 14 of 17 seats, Browne has embarked on a program “to transform” the country, launching the nation onto the global stage. During a New York breakfast at The Lamb’s Club, he told journalists he has already secured a $2 billion investment from a Chinese developer for a wide-ranging tourism project that will include multiple hotels and attractions. Another memorandum of intent has been signed with a developer from the United Arab Emirates to invest $150 million in a high-end resort. Yet another developer, this one from Canada, is in the process committing several hundred million dollars in investment towards tourism development. On Barbuda there has been smaller scale hotel investment from Americans and Australians. In the works is a new $120 million terminal that will open in 2015 at V.C. Bird International Airport, plus further down the line a $200 million cruise and cargo port expansion that will add a third cruise ship pier and additional shopping.
Brown said his goal is to position the country as one of “the best investment destinations in the World.”
Wide-ranging programs to attract investment include tax holidays and the ability to repatriate profits. Browne said his incentives are “the most generous on the planet.” For “serious investors,” the PM noted, he is available “24 hours a day and seven days a week” to meet. He recalled one elite traveler from the Middle East arrived to briefly review opportunities, and after the PM personally wooed the would be investor, a MOU to develop a hotel project was signed on the spot.
The government has also launched an expanded citizenship program based on investing. Browne adds he wants to dial up both yacht and private jet registry as well as opportunities in the banking and finance sector. “We have the expertise,” he said.
While the country is easily accessible by private jet, Browne added the government is aggressively adding commercial airline service to help bolster the economy. JetBlue will start flights next year, British Airways is increasing its services and COPA will launch flights to Central and South America.
Browne told the journalists that all the development will fall within Antigua’s stringent environmental protection policies, and each project must pass the muster of a study before getting the green light. He also believes heavily in “investment tourism” where visitors will come on vacation and end up setting up businesses. Visa requirements from a number of countries, including China, have now been waived. To attract more upscale travelers he said consultants are advising him on opportunities to increase festivals and events. Plans are underway to build a national museum, heritage attractions and increase shopping opportunities with both global brands and local purveyors.
While Antigua has been in the news for trade disputes with the United States around offshore gaming, Browne said his country remains closely allied with the U.S. “Ninety percent of what we consume comes from overseas and 60 percent comes from the United States. It is not in our interest to have an acrimonious relationship.”
The Prime Minister says elite travelers will be hearing about Antigua & Barbuda more often. He has expanded the responsibilities of his diplomats worldwide to promote tourism and investment as part of their mandates.