Members of the Media, People of these Virgin Islands, Good Afternoon:
First let me thank God for his blessings and good fortune which he continues to bestow on these Virgin Islands.
Today’s press briefing is the beginning of a bi-monthly series of press briefings on various matters of the Territory. This afternoon, allow me to speak on three important matters:
• The National Business Bureau (small businesses)
• Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FACTA)
• Tourism Initiatives
First, let’s talk about the National Business Bureau, particularly small businesses
When my administration first served in 2003, we made small business development a priority.
You see, we understood then and it still is the case today, that small business development is essential to stimulating the economy. It provides jobs and is the central driver for circulating wealth throughout this economy.
We also know that entrepreneurs continue to face many challenges including access to capital and trained human resources.
That is why we have re-established the National Business Bureau and have put in place a loan programme to foster the growth of the business sector and to encourage new businesses as well.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to announce that the National Business Bureau and the National Bank of the Virgin Islands have partnered together to provide loans to viable businesses through a loan programme that is the remit of the Department of Trade and Consumer Affairs.
I am pleased to announce that the first business to benefit from this loan programme is ENS Excavation Ltd, a company specialising in environmental recycling. And we expect that two others will very shortly be approved, once we have completed the necessary review of their proposals and are satisfied that they meet all the requirements.
To qualify, entrepreneurs, as did ENS, have to submit a sound business plan for startups and solid financials for existing businesses and to demonstrate an ability to repay.
I know there are many Virgin Islanders who are keen to start their own businesses and as a Government we must do all that we can to support them.
As of today, applicants may approach the National Business Bureau for evaluation and see how they can qualify for the loan guarantee programme. We also urge intended borrowers to participate in upcoming training courses provided by the Bureau.
We are not just lending monies; we are providing assistance with writing proper business plans.
We are not just lending monies, we are setting criteria, training and counseling entrepreneurs on strategies for lucrative businesses. It is about making sure ideas are well fleshed out. It is about making sure that businesses are long-lived.
Currently, we are speaking with other commercial banks and other entities to provide a strong credit environment.
I know that businesses will only thrive if they are given the necessary support to do so My Government is keeping its promise to support and improve the small business sector.
Allow me now to speak about the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act or FATCA as we usually call it, another initiative that we are paying a lot of attention to.
The United States has, and has always had, a tax regime that taxes all US persons on their worldwide income.
However, it has been the case that many US persons do not pay their taxes when they are domiciled outside of the US.
In an attempt to increase compliance the US government has introduced FATCA which is requiring all Foreign Financial Institutions or Foreign Financial Entities to report to the US government on the financial accounts held by US intuitions that hold accounts with them.
It is also important to realise, that FATCA places absolutely no obligation on foreign governments including the British Virgin Islands.
My colleagues and I have however, realised that it would be in the best interest of the industry here in the British Virgin Islands if foreign financial institutions operating here were provided with an environment that provides some degree of comfort, gives assurance of compliance with our BVI regulations and laws and provide ease in their cooperation with the US tax authorities.
It is for this reason that we have decided to negotiate an Intergovernmental Agreement (or IGA) with the US Treasury. The industry in the BVI was consulted on this matter as well and they agree that indeed this would be most beneficial.
We are of the very considered opinion that this course is the best one to adopt for the BVI. We have already commenced talks with the US Treasury and expect to continue to do so until a final agreement is reached.
It is therefore very important that we all understand that the BVI is not being forced or coerced into finalising an IGA, but instead we are of the opinion that this is what is best for the British Virgin Islands.
In short order, we will launch an education campaign to create awareness of FACTA and we invite the public to be a part of the learning process.
As we continue moving strategically forward in building a better Virgin Islands, I wish to speak about important Tourism initiatives.
As part of our global tourism strategy, we are expanding into new and emerging markets. One such market is Brazil. Brazil presents considerable opportunity for the BVI.
It also gives a platform to launch other initiatives in other Latin countries such as Argentina and Chile. Earlier this year I visited Brazil as part of the advance work into opening up this market and I look forward to formally opening this presence in October this year.
The BVI Tourist Board has selected the public relations firm of JG Black Book to represent BVI in the South America effective September 1, 2013.
In 2014 the BVITB will begin to investigate the potential for the BVI in Asia with the opening of the BVI Hong Kong Office.
Let me also speak about the critical area of airlift.
The much anticipated codeshare agreement between Seaborne Airlines and American Airlines is now in place. This means that Seaborne affiliated destinations including Virgin Gorda and Tortola will now be available globally. Baggage transfers and ticketing will now be as seamless as it was with American Eagle.
This is indeed very timely news ahead of the booking period for the winter ahead.
Cape Air will be adding Virgin Gorda to its schedule destinations from San Juan daily, as well as flights from St. Thomas to Tortola. These flights are designed to connect with flights from the US mainland and provide seamless connection onward to BVI.
Additionally starting this winter, we will have regular Seaplane Service to North Sound thereby increasing the number of daily available seats into Virgin Gorda the crown jewel if our tourism product. Meanwhile Air Sunshine and other private charters will continue to service the Virgin Gorda airport during the winter season ahead.
In serving the needs of our European visitors we are in discussions with carriers to improve airlift from Antigua and St. Martin.
Effective September 1st 2013 the BVITB will bring on board a new Public Relations Agency with the objective of building the destination’s awareness in our primary market, North America.
In assisting small property development, the BVITB has teamed up with a US based company –Jack Rabbit to provide a booking engine on Board’s website. This booking engine will enable prospective visitors to book hotel accommodations directly with all properties who sign up. This will be achieved at no cost to participating properties.
It is our goal that this will provide our smaller properties with a level playing field in exposure, as well as technology. We expect to have the Booking Engine to be fully operational on or before November 15, 2013.
BVITB is seeking to partner on strategic marketing and operational initiatives with the USVI Ports Authority and the Division of Tourism. We met as recently as last week here in the BVI to explore matters like ferry operations and BVI presence at airport facilities.
Customer service and guest relations are paramount to BVI tourism. As such the BVITB has rolled out its “WE ARE ONE BVI” campaign which is a major territory-wide service training initiative as we seek to become a destination that is focused on delivering an exceptional experience.
The training programme seeks to touch all facets of BVI life, culture and industries. We have already started a series of workshops designed to sensitize and remind our residents of their role in tourism and the importance of good customer service and the importance of treating our visitors as guests in our home.
In closing, My Government will continue to do all it can to move this Territory strategically forward so that we can to build a better British Virgin Islands so generations to come would benefit.
I thank you and at this time and I now welcome any questions you may have.