Leading Back Into Growth
Prime Minister Browne, can you tell us why Antigua & Barbuda decided to establish a citizenship-by-investment programme (CIP)?
In 2009, I promoted the introduction of a CIP while I was an opposition parliamentarian. After the global crisis of 2008, Antigua and Barbuda suffered economically. Unemployment increased; people were falling below the poverty line. I recommended to the then-administration the introduction of a CIP, however the idea was dismissed. Nevertheless, I believed in the CIP and the socio-economic benefits it could potentially bring to Antigua and Barbuda and continued to advocate for its introduction for several years. It was only in 2013 that the then-administration established the programme. The following year, I became Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, and my government is now the beneficiary of the programme. The programme helped to accelerate the recovery from the crisis and restore socio-economic stability. It was also of great importance when hurricane Irma hit our country.
Before Covid-19, your country’s growth forecast was positive. The IMF now expects a GDP drop of -10% in 2020. How do you see the economy develop in the coming months?
We thought that 2020 would be our best economic year on record, but unfortunately it turned out to be one of the worst years. In fact, I can tell you that initially we expected a GDP reduction of 20% due to our heavy dependence on tourism. Government has seen a significant reduction in revenue, which fell by about 65% during the lockdown period. It is now inching back up to around 50% of projected revenue for 2020. However, we expect to return to growth in 2021 and have projected that we can recover within 18 months. However, the recovery for the entire Caribbean region will take longer, probably around four years.
What role does your CIP play in attracting investment in this challenging period?
We are trying to attract new capital investments utilising the CIP programme. We already have a few leads, and once confirmed, we want to expedite these projects as soon as possible. We witnessed a reduction in CIP investment in recent months, but I believe that we will rebound and get back to normal revenue generation within a matter of months. I am convinced that our management of the coronavirus crisis goes a long way towards showing that Antigua and Barbuda is not only a beautiful island nation, but also one of the safest places in the world to live.
Recently, we have also introduced a nomad visa. We are seeking to entice knowledge workers as well as high-net-worth individuals to move to Antigua and work remotely in a safe environment. A single individual pays a fee of US$300, a couple US$500 and any additional person pays US$100 – so it’s quite reasonable. We already received several applications.
What message would you like to impart about Antigua & Barbuda’s attractiveness as a country to live and invest in?
Antigua & Barbuda has one the most diverse populations in the entire Caribbean. It is a melting pot of people and cultures, and everyone is very open to new citizens. We have one of the lowest crime rates in the region, enjoy economic stability and have been classified as a high-income country for many years. We are now doing our utmost to ensure a quick recovery post Covid-19. I’d also like to point out that the government is very entrepreneurial and open to joint ventures with prospective citizens. We believe public-private-partnerships will play an important role going forward.
Antigua and Barbuda also has a history of attracting high-net-worth individuals to relocate to the island. We have a number of high-end luxury resorts and residences. Take Jumby Bay Island, a private island. The cheapest property there costs roughly US$ 15 million. Real estate prices have also remained stable in recent years, and there has never been a reduction in real estate value.
Besides our record in healthcare, last but not least, I’d like to mention that we have also made great strides in the field of education. Among the Caribbean countries that operate CIPs, Antigua & Barbuda is the only country that has its own university campus. We are home to the fourth landed campus of the University of the West Indies, with close to 500 entries expected this school year.
For all these reasons, I believe Antigua and Barbuda should definitely be on the radar of anyone interested in applying for a second citizenship or seeking residency.
Interview with Gaston Browne, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda