By Makeida Antonio
The United Progressive Party (UPP) has begun embarking on what its leadership calls an investment tour, seeking foreign direct investment (FDI) in hopes of bringing economic prosperity to the twin-island state of Antigua and Barbuda.
A shared three-page document disclosed details of recent trips to two Latin American countries, Panama and the Dominican Republic. The trips were led by UPP Political Leader Harold Lovell and Leader of the Opposition, Jamale Pringle. The purpose of the regional meetings, according to the Party, was to remain consistent with its priorities in several areas of national development.
“The goal of the trade and investment mission is to build relationships with key international partners to promote Antigua and Barbuda’s strong capacity for trade and investment, and to unlock opportunities in key developmental areas: tourism, aviation, housing, manufacturing, agriculture, agri-tech, financial-tech and international banking,” the UPP shared in the document.
This investment and trade tour has been dubbed as “highly successful” by Lovell, who said that at least two investors have had “promising” dialogue with the UPP delegation. The party remains confident that these talks will provide economic linkages, thus creating jobs for young people in the country. Once the UPP has the opportunity to run the government following the next general election, a “Ministry of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation” will be established. This proposed Ministry will be activated to assist young entrepreneurs with capital and business markets inside and outside of Antigua and Barbuda.
In a livestream interview with the UPP last Thursday, on V C Bird Day, the party gave its supporters, and listening and viewing audiences, the chance to further receive information contained in the document during a question-and-answer segment following a brief welcome and introduction by Lovell and Pringle.
The questions comprised of several observations and concerns about other ideas and proposals mentioned in, and stemming from the three-page document. They surround pressing issues such as language and culture, sustainable FDI, eco-tourism in Barbuda, affordable rent, affordable work permits, Social Security, promises of “no new taxes,” electorate confidence in the party, and reform of the Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP).
Lovell believes that due to historical ties between Antigua and Barbuda and the Dominican Republic and Panama, there are no foreseeable barriers in language and culture that cannot be overcome. He also said that the goal is to primarily hire local young people and provide financial support for local small businesses, in areas such as agriculture, new factories and at least one new hotel. Additionally, Lovell revealed that investors in the United States, United Kingdom, the Middle East and Asia will be approached to create investment deals that will benefit citizens in the country.
With regards to affordable housing and rent, Leader of the Opposition Jamale Pringle highlighted that the party has always suggested the ‘rent to own’ concept, where a tenant’s monthly rent would be considered down payments so that they would eventually own the property. Pringle also spoke about the consideration of building up, instead of out, which would alleviate the lack of land owned by young people. He argued that having groups living in condominiums under a price of rent controlled by the government, will ease the burden of lack of housing in less affluent communities.
Specific investment and government effort will be given to the beautification of St John’s City, according to Lovell, in order to boost the country’s tourism product and give locals a more pleasant aesthetic. However, there was no mention or address of the car park in the vicinity of Independence Avenue which remains unfinished.
During the probe of “no new taxes,” Lovell indicated that while the UPP introduced the Antigua and Barbuda Sales Tax (ABST), the current Antigua and Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) has retained it as it replaced at least 10 taxes previously instituted. Both Lovell and Pringle acknowledged that while the country must collect taxes in order to run efficiently. Nevertheless, they both shared the opinion that Unincorporated Business Tax (UBT) has become a roadblock for small business owners who want to create a decent livelihood for themselves.
They shared plans to remove it.
The UPP spoke very passionately about repairing the relationship between Antigua and the sister isle, Barbuda. Lovell said that Barbuda is not against development, but the people must be involved, and he believes that a less invasive form of tourism, eco-tourism, will be accepted by the Barbuda Council. In the document, the UPP will seek investment to create a duty-free port in Barbuda for tourism as well.
A review of the Citizenship by Investment Unit will be done if UPP assumes political leadership. The party believes that this can benefit the financial sector and addresses de-risking that currently face the region.
Speaking of the region, the UPP has plans to reduce the cost of work permits, as the party believes that Antigua and Barbuda’s culture has become unique due to the blending of influences from other Caribbean citizens choosing to make the country their home.