Looking towards regional co-operation
There is a proverb that says if you want to succeed, you must visualise yourself in your success and then go make it a reality.
I would like to take this opportunity to discuss the possibilities that the future holds for the people of the Virgin Islands, and where we should see ourselves regionally and internationally.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria exposed to us strengths that we forgot we had. Other circumstances require us to re-evaluate not only what we are doing, but how we are doing it.
Today, we must look at what resilience means in the context of the realities that we face as British Overseas Territory located in the middle of the vast, deep, blue ocean 4,000 miles away from our motherland; as a small-island developing state that is exposed to climate change and violent cyclones; as a member of the Caribbean community that experiences some of the same challenges as we do; and, most importantly, as a people who wish to be in control of our destiny and to prosper.
Our mission today must be to spark a transformation locally and regionally, and to create an environment where all of our people enjoy a high quality of life, characterised by a feeling of reasonable happiness, comfort and security, where they occupy sustainable jobs in the careers of their choosing; where our people, especially the young ones, have easy access to the opportunities for education, training and development so that they can pursue their dreams; and where they can get high value for their earnings.
In the BVI, we must strive for a very productive, sound and diversified economy that is not easily shaken; one that would provide financial security, empower our people and relieve them of being unnecessarily dependent on others.
This goal can be achieved if we strengthen the full spectrum of our value chain and if we form strategic and mutually beneficial partnerships with those closest to us, who have a lot to offer as well as to benefit from such arrangements, and who can empathise with our point of view.
To become economically resilient, we must look for ways to increase revenues from tourism and financial services, while setting up new industries, especially linkage industries, given the evolving landscape.
All available resources and private and public structures must be mobilised to accelerate the rebuilding and development so that we can maximise our benefit from the opportunities that are on the horizon. Economic substance, the efforts of our international marketing strategies with travel agents, cruise lines and airlines, the reprofiling of the BVI as a holiday destination that is also ideal for business, meetings, conferences, training, education, medical services and such will lead to a dramatic increase in arrivals to the BVI. And we have to be prepared to maximise our benefits from this.
Our entrepreneurs and innovators must exercise their creativity and spot the emerging business opportunities. Prepare your bed and breakfast accommodations, restaurants and catering services, hardware stores, barge and shipping companies, and all other types of business. Identify what inputs and skill sets you will need and put things in motion to get them.
Your government’s primary aim is to ensure that local businesses grow and that all our people are gainfully employed. This we are doing.
But where we require additional capacity to achieve our broader goals, we must recognise that we have only to look next door to find what we need. Our Caricom neighbours have a lot to offer in terms of manufactured goods, professional services, skilled labour and partnerships that will have mutual benefits. The Caribbean region is very strong if our countries and our people work together.
Your BVI government has recognised that we must take the initiative and lead the thrust for revisiting the opportunities and mechanics for regional trade. We must make this effort because we understand the economics of it from our experience and our perspective as a small-island state.
We will be reaching out to the leaders in the region and business organisations to let them know that the BVI is serious about doing business and that we are open for business. We need lumber, aggregates, construction materials, foodstuffs and other products, which can be easily accessed by establishing an ocean freight trade route from Guyana through Trinidad & Tobago, Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent, Dominica, the Virgin Islands and also Jamaica. A rising tide will lift all boats, and the BVI will take the lead in developing this. Our local shipping interests must take note and ready themselves. Regional businesses must know that the BVI is a market and, therefore, by coming together, we can make it work for everyone. They, too, must get ready to trade.
These linkages and logistics will be beneficial to our agricultural producers, our fisherfolk and other businesses as they grow and seek to connect with export markets. They will also be essential for supporting the other activities that are taking place in the BVI.
Several digital companies have expressed interest in bringing their bases of operations to the BVI. That is why we have begun exploring all options — old and new — for ensuring reliable connectivity.
Discussions are under way with airlift providers who are anxious to begin operating in the BVI. Similarly, we have begun the process of reaching out to leading hotel brands to let them know that there are opportunities here. We are exploring other new industries that can be introduced to the territory that will bring benefit to our people while being respectful of our natural environment.
My message to local and regional business interests is to prepare yourselves. If your venture requires a foreign partner, find one now and start the process.
If you are foreign-based and you have something the BVI needs, make your BVI connection. There is a lot of work to be done and a lot of opportunities for getting involved.
People of the BVI and people of the region, visualise yourselves in a dynamic, prosperous space, full of economic prospect, and where the quality of life is high and dreams are achieved. This is the future we will build together.
Visualise it and let us take the steps to make it happen. Let us open the channels for communication, for trade, for partnership, for security and for creating opportunities for all of our people.
I look forward to seeing these efforts taking off and bearing fruit in the near future.
• Andrew Fahie is the Premier of the British Virgin Islands
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