Barbados Ambassador John Beale came to Atlanta on short notice, but he didn’t let his time here go to waste.
The island nation’s envoy to the U.S. last Thursday received the international hero award from Atlanta’s World Chamber of Commerce, along with some of his Caribbean counterparts, at an event focused on global health.
But he stuck around for another day to brainstorm how to better position the island to capitalize on its growing ties with Atlanta.
Always a “niche destination,” according to its promoters, Barbados is not your mass market island with large, all-inclusive resorts focused on wooing the everyman’s family. It’s a more upscale (and a bit more expensive) former British colony of just 284,000 people known as one of the most developed nations in the region.
Much of its economy is centered on the movement of money internationally, and the country has walked a tightrope to keep this advantage while ensuring it’s not lumped in with other islands known explicitly as tax havens as large nations are starting to put the screws on corporate and individual earnings parked overseas.
Devoid of much manufacturing, Barbados has slowly been seeking to diversify its economy while keeping those distinctives. Solar energy, especially in residential applications, has caught on, and investments are being made to improve the education system to add a sense of entrepreneurship to Barbados’ strong tradition of classical learning.
“Anything between the ears, there are Barbadians that can compete with anyone anywhere in the world,” Mr. Beale told Global Atlanta in an interview.
Like that of Georgia, the Barbados film industry is growing, as demonstrated by “Chrissy”, a story filmed in Barbados that highlights the perils of bullying. It was recently screened in Atlanta and is on its way to Cannes in France. That sector is one the island will explore in its relations with Atlanta, says Honorary Consul Edward Layne, a gastroenterologist in Atlanta.
Of course, tourism is still a huge draw, and it’s becoming less of a bonus for the economy and more of an essential, to the point where it’s being proactively promoted in North America especially to complement the natural flow of Brits and Canadians. Overall visitor arrivals in 2014 were up 11 percent from the previous year, surpassing 2007 totals, according to tourism officials.
It’s these developments and more that Mr. Beale sought to highlight as a way to fill planes from Atlanta to Barbados, of which there are more as of last fall’s Delta Air Lines Inc. launch of daily flights to the country. Seasonal as of now, Barbados tourism officials would like to see the daily Delta service stick around all year and even increase, but they’ve got to show the traffic to back it up.
“As far as Atlanta goes, I really think this is a golden opportunity,” Mr. Beale told Global Atlanta.
He was speaking mainly of “Barbados Comes to Atlanta,” next year’s celebration of the island’s 50 years of independence. Planned for next Memorial Day weekend 2016 in Atlanta, the street festival and gala will highlight Barbados culture and cuisine, while a business forum to showcase the island’s charms for investors.
David Cutting, a former international banker and Barbados native who settled in Atlanta and has become vice honorary consul for the country under Dr. Layne, said foreign investment is key to its future. Barbados “ticks all the boxes” for stability and good governance, but at times its bureaucracy can be onerous. That friction needs to be reduced, he said.
“A place like Mauritius, for example, is where we need to go,” said Mr. Cutting of the international financial center off Africa’s eastern coast.
Mr. Beale, whose long career in the financial industry includes an eight-year stint at the World Bank, noted that Barbados has to protect its reputation in light of what he views as a coming consolidation in the world of offshore finance destinations. With the U.S. and other countries growing more strict about the information they require banks to disclose, those financial centers adept at balancing compliance with investor protections will be at an advantage, he said.
“The good ones will survive. The ones that are not that good will disappear. There’s no room for countries that cannot compete. Because what happens? The big countries keep changing the barrier … and then you meet it and it pushes up some more,” he said. “Just to be able to keep up with the regulation is a nightmare. So I think the ones who really are professionals, who drive the business properly, will make more money.”
The U.S. Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA, is a prime example of this balancing act. Passed in 2010, the law requires banks to disclose certain information on personal accounts of U.S. nationals (including greencard holders), without regard to country. Mr. Beale wasn’t happy about the burden it places on international banks, especially since it’s not reciprocal, but he conceded that it’s a fact of life in small countries that are not privy to the financial “consensus” forged among big economies.
As with education, he believes that the key in solidifying Barbados’ role in offshore finance is attracting intellectual capital.
“If you bring the brains, they will bring the business,” he said.
And the offshore business itself also drives tourism and other “collateral benefits” for the economy, as executives come for business but bring their families for to enjoy the sun, sand, culture and culinary offerings.
“These companies are located in Barbados. They provide lawyers tremendous fees; they provide accountants tremendous fees; they provide people who work in these offices — and these offices do not pay small fees to secretaries in whatnot, they have highly trained staff that are paid a lot of money,” he said. “There is tremendous amount of monies that you don’t necessarily see on some account form.”
The World Chamber event also featured the ambassadors of Dominica and the Bahamas, along with multiple members of the Atlanta consular corps and the medical community.
Learn more at www.worldchamberc.org.