Q: What is your economic development vision for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and what role can foreign investment play in it?
A: The vision for Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is really to take a multi-island state that has traditionally relied on agriculture and very small amounts of niche tourism [and] catapult it forward into becoming a very vibrant and active player in the regional and global economy. A lot of that involves making the transition from agriculture to services – one of the primary services being tourism – but we also have tremendous investments on the way in the areas of technology, small business and light manufacturing, and a very vibrant creative and art space that has been making some waves in the region and, hopefully, internationally.
Q: What are the main challenges that you face as you work towards your development goals, and how can you address them?
A: One of the developmental challenges that we have always faced is the fact that we’re a multi-island state. So, if you build, for example, a power plant on Saint Vincent, you also have to build another power plant on Bequia and another on Canouan. So there are some costs that are built into being a multi-island state – that’s a challenge. It’s a blessing and a curse, but we’re focusing on the many positives that it brings.
The huge developmental challenge at the moment is climate change. We have been subject to [and] victim of a number of moderately intense climate events that have cost us a lot in terms of both human life and infrastructure, and we’re always sort of under threat, we’re very vulnerable – as are all other islands in the Caribbean and small islands generally. But we are working very hard with the international community, with multilateral donors and with our own policy to make the country more resilient to climate events, be they hurricanes, droughts or any other weather extremes.
The other challenges have been letting people know that Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is different. Sometimes investors think ‘well, the Caribbean is the Caribbean is the Caribbean’ and they may not necessarily focus on some of the characteristics and peculiarities of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. But that’s where we have our investment promotion agency and a lot of what it does is to explain to people that we are different. The opportunities in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are different, the possibilities in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are different and with that and with an educated investor, we always feel we’re a little bit ahead of the game.
Q: Do you have any reform plans in store?
A: Yes, the government has already legislatively made a few reforms to welcome investors. The packages and incentives that we offer are currently competitive with the region, but we’re trying to institute [legal] reforms to give investors a one-stop shop.
A lot of the complaints that we get about doing business in the Caribbean and in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines are that it’s diffused, that the bureaucracy is a bit of a labyrinth and it’s hard to find your way through the various areas. So we’re trying to use our investment promotion agency to create a one-stop shop to which investors come, they know all of the laws that apply, all of the incentives to which they are entitled, and it walks them through the various processes.
Lifting a concession here or there by a few points is useful to the bottom line, but what we’re really trying to do is enact policies that give investors a sense of welcoming and belonging – and that’s where our focus is at the moment.