British Overseas Territories leaders meet in Gibraltar
Leaders from Britain’s Overseas Territories (OTs), including Gibraltar, Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Montserrat, Pitcairn, Turks and Caicos, and St Helena met on Monday in Gibraltar in a planning meeting for the upcoming meeting of the Joint Ministerial Council with the United Kingdom in November 2013.
The Joint Ministerial Council or JMC is a group comprising premiers /chief ministers of OTs and members of the UK government.
In the first session on Monday, discussions were had in the areas of investments and economic diversification, financial services, employment and vocational education, governance and governors. It is expected that these are some of the areas that will be included on the agenda with the British government for further discussion at the JMC.
In speaking on the subject of economic diversification and investments, British Virgin Islands Premier Dr Orlando Smith said both investments and economic diversification dominated the early conversation with each territory reporting on their plans for diversification and their need for investments in key areas.
He said, “Commonly many of our partners are looking to attract investments in areas such as hotel development, medical tourism, energy, airports and cruise ports.
“Many of my colleagues are moving steadily forward to pursuing investment and development in critical areas such as cruise ports and airports. Equally, hotel infrastructure development is also high on their agenda.”
He explained that, as tourism is critical to most of the OTs’ economies, leaders each recognised a simple formula: in order to grow businesses and the number of visitors to our island, they have to create the infrastructure to facilitate it, adding that air access and sea access are critically important in a tourism and service based economy, as well as for our residents.
In discussing financial services, Smith said leaders reflected on the new global environment for financial services, and reiterated the need for a stronger partnership among each other in order to manage this era. Leaders also reflected on their various commitments where each territory committed to new transparency initiatives for sharing information such as the multi-lateral convention, G5 pilot, Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and beneficial ownership.
“Information sharing is the current lay of the land, we have always done it, we have committed to do more in different ways, and so have every other OT and many other jurisdictions around the world,” he said, adding, “We continue to stress the need for a level playing field and will call on the UK to advance that call, as well as to advocate in the global fora that our jurisdictions are compliant jurisdictions.”
Recognising that some of the countries in the room were world leaders in various financial services areas, (Cayman in funds, Bermuda in insurance and BVI in companies), Smith said they represent an integral cog in the global financial economy, and as such we expect to continue to forge ahead in developing and protecting our industries.
“We agreed the need for partnership and cohesion, and leveraging the opportunities that such partnership presents,” he said.
Talks were expected to continue Wednesday on financial services, when leaders expected to discuss proposals to put to the UK in terms of ongoing partnership and expectations in the area of financial services.
According to Smith, the topic of governors and governance produced some important discussions surrounding the process of appointment of governors and their roles and functions. He said each of the countries had varying experiences as governors play different roles depending on the current issues in the respective territory and the constitutionally agreed roles. He said more specifics on the topic of governors and governance will be discussed further with the UK in November.
In looking employment and vocational education, Smith said some interesting ideas were shared on this subject area.
Several jurisdictions have programmes in place similar to that of the BVI government’s youth unemployment programme spearheaded by minister for education and culture, Myron Walwyn.
In citing an example, Smith said Gibraltar has an apparently very successful programme which has created 805 new jobs in one year and reduced unemployment significantly.
He said from those shared experiences he will be discussing some elements with Walwyn and the deputy premier and minister natural resources and labour to improve similar programmes in the BVI.
Talks were also centered on pursuing diversification in areas such as sports and deep sea fishing and sports tourism.
Leaders also expressed a strong commitment to find synergies amongst ourselves, and work together as a collaborative group.
In concluding, Smith said the sharing of experiences amongst the members of the OTs is insightful and invaluable.
“We each are learning from each other to build on what we do in our own countries. Perhaps most relevant though, we will take these shared experiences and collective thoughts and present them to the UK in November to further enhance our partnership with UK and to request of her, support for our issues, concerns and needs.”