The British Virgin Islands’ (BVI) international financial center was represented at two recent conferences and a series of high-level meetings in Dubai, attended to discuss potential financial services synergies and drum up funds and wealth management business for the Caribbean territory.
A small BVI delegation attended the Hedge Funds World Conference at the Jumeirah Beach Hotel in Dubai, and the Society of Trust and Estate Practioners’ “Opportunities for the Flow of New Wealth Conference” event which discussed business and investment possibilities in Dubai, particularly from the Dubai International Financial Center – a leading tax-free zone.
Executive Director of the BVI International Finance Center, Elise Donovan, commented: “We were given a very warm welcome on our return to the United Arab Emirates and it is clear that many investors from across the region recognize the advantages of using BVI structures and services for conducting international business.”
World Trade Center. Dubai has established itself as a prominent regional hub for finance, trade, tourism, and shopping. Picture courtesy of Basil D Soufi.
BVI firms already have a significant presence in the Gulf region. The BVI office of law firm Conyers, Dill and Pearman, for example, was involved in the Mostorod Oil Refinery Project, named “Project Finance Deal of the Year” in the International Financial Law Review’s Middle East Awards. The firm acted for Citadel Capital, a listed Egyptian private equity firm, on the USD3.7bn financing for the redevelopment of an oil refinery near Cairo. The deal was the largest-ever financing project in Africa and among the largest inward-investments into Egypt.
Donovan continued: “The BVI has become an attractive option to investors from the Gulf States looking to acquire BVI company structures for a multiplicity of investing and other cross-border transactions. BVI’s structures are easy to use, flexible, widely accepted and cost-competitive compared to other products being offered in the region.”
“BVI trusts and fiduciary services and funds and investment business are popular in the Middle East for wealth management, investing, structuring ownership and control, and for planning for the succession of assets. Our aim is to strengthen and deepen the relationship the BVI has with the Middle East so that we can work more closely together in the future.”
From the Financial Times By Robin Wigglesworth and Benedict Mander
When Hurricane Ivan pummelled Grenada in 2004, fierce gales snapped telephone masts like twigs. With the lines down, it took days before the outside world learnt the scale of destruction the tropical storm had wreaked in the Caribbean state.
In a country of just 100,000 people, 39 died. Aside from the physical scars, Ivan left a lasting, debilitating legacy: huge government debts inflated by the expense of rebuilding battered schools, infrastructure and homes. Despite restructuring those debts in 2005, Grenada was still vulnerable when the financial crisis struck, hurting its vital tourism industry. Finding itself on the ropes again, Grenada last month had to renege on its debts.
Grenada is not alone. Many of the smaller countries in and around the Caribbean basin are economically and financially stricken. International Monetary Fund officials say the region is on a “knife’s edge” as it faces years of painful adjustments. This economic fragility has critical implications for regional security. The Caribbean has become an increasingly violent nexus for trafficking drugs, guns and people – and fears are growing that piracy is returning as a strategic threat.
While the US and Europe have lessened their engagement with the Caribbean, many of its countries have found a new friend willing to offer vital aid and investments: China. Former US President George W. Bush described the Caribbean as America’s “third border” but Beijing is now arguably on the cusp of supplanting Washington as the effective regional power.
As a result, officials inside and outside the region say the Caribbean is entering a crucial period that it will struggle to navigate unscathed. “The Caribbean is at a crossroads,” says Arnold McIntyre, the Grenadan head of the IMF’s regional technical assistance centre. “It faces its most formidable economic challenge since independence.”
The debt mountain is one of the clearest indications of the Caribbean’s woes. Excluding the larger countries such as Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Cuba – relatively populous nations with very different challenges – the region’s overall government debts amount to more than 70 per cent of gross domestic product, according to the IMF. For small, open economies, that is dangerously high, says Stuart Culverhouse, chief economist at Exotix. Jamaica’s debt was even higher at the end of last year, reaching 143 per cent of GDP. This is forcing the country into a painful fiscal retrenchment as it has to abide by the terms of an IMF bailout.
The strain is already becoming too much for some countries. St Kitts and Nevis, Belize and Jamaica have had to restructure. Sebastian Espinosa of White Oak, a advisory firm helping Grenada with its restructuring, warns that others could follow if growth does not recover soon. Even wealthier states such as the Bahamas are considered vulnerable. “The Caribbean is ground zero for sovereign debt restructurings,” says Carl Ross of Oppenheimer, a US investment bank.
Yet debts are a symptom not a cause of the region’s underlying malaise. Restructurings will offer only a temporary respite. Hurricanes are only partly to blame. Although ferocious storms cause periodic devastation, the fundamental challenges are political and economic. Irresponsible government spending has compounded the problem facing uncompetitive Caribbean states. Simply because of their small size, the economies have to import most of their basic goods and are always vulnerable to any shocks.
Since the independence wave of the 1960s and 1970s, public spending on social programmes, education and jobs has steadily increased. But growth has largely remained sluggish, dependent on niche sectors such as banana and sugar exports to Europe, financial services and tourism.
The result has been decades of stubbornly high budget and trade deficits, financed by borrowing. “We have adopted a tradition in these islands that the government’s role is one of largesse … and patronage,” says Mark Brantley, opposition leader in St Kitts and Nevis. “Governments have continued to borrow and spend with no attention to fiscal sobriety.”
The former European colonies in the Caribbean had enjoyed preferential access to the EU for banana and sugar exports. But after a legal battle dubbed the “banana wars” the World Trade Organisation in 1997 ordered an end to the arrangement, arguing it discriminated against other producers. This was a heavy blow, particularly to big sugar producers such as St Kitts, and banana exporters such as Belize and Dominica. In the latter, banana exports collapsed to just 1.5 per cent of GDP in 2008, from almost a quarter in 1988.
Tourism long proved more buoyant. Increasing numbers of visitors triggered a tentative improvement in government finances around the turn of the millennium. But the financial crisis clobbered tourism revenues and budgets have unravelled again.
George Tsibouris, the IMF’s eastern Caribbean division chief, says the region is now facing yet another “lost decade”. “It will take years of commitment to these goals to bring the ship safely back to shore,” he predicts.
Visitor numbers have started to pick up again, particularly in countries that traditionally attract more US than European visitors, such as Jamaica and the Bahamas. Alan Leibman, chief executive of Kerzner International, which manages the Atlantis hotel in the Bahamas, says that “it has been a challenging few years” but notes that January was the hotel’s best ever month for bookings.
Nonetheless, visitors are spending less money, and countries popular with Europeans, such as Grenada, are facing particularly steep drops in tourism revenue. Tourism is also often a zero-sum game: one country’s gain is often its neighbour’s loss.
Unexpected shocks have hit even the stronger states. In January 2009, CL Financial, an insurance conglomerate based in energy-rich Trinidad and Tobago, unexpectedly imploded. This proved to be the Caribbean’s Lehman Brothers, rattling almost every country in the region. The IMF estimates the cost of the collapse at 3.5 per cent of GDP on average for the Caribbean countries – rising to more than 10 per cent for Trinidad and Tobago. The clean-up continues.
Aid to the region has also shrivelled since the end of the cold war. Multinational organisations such as the IMF, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank are putting their time and money into the region – most recently agreeing a four-year $2bn aid facility for Jamaica. But local officials feel the Caribbean’s traditional friends – the US, the UK and to an extent Europe – have lost interest.
Keith Mitchell, Grenada’s prime minister, says he understands that the US’s budgetary crisis is constraining its aid, but adds “it is somewhat difficult for us not to feel a sense of neglect when we see the US write off large amounts of debts owed by countries that it considers strategically important”.
China, on the other hand, has become increasingly influential in Caribbean capitals. The initial trickle of aid was tied to accepting Beijing’s “One China” policy and breaking off relations with Taiwan. The reward took the form of sparkling new cricket stadiums that were built and paid for by China. But David Jessop, the head of the Caribbean Council, a consultancy and think-tank, argues that Beijing’s policy has recently evolved markedly.
“The past couple of years its money has been redirected from financing small vanity projects to large scale investments and a heavy Chinese presence on the ground,” he says. “It is distinctly different from a few years ago and appears to be more strategic in its intent.”
Caribbean nations are treating China’s advances with a mix of curiosity, apprehension and eagerness. Andrew Holness, the former prime minister of Jamaica and now leader of the opposition, insists that the US is “our longstanding close friend” but says his country “is in a pivotal position regionally to help project China”.
Nevertheless, few expect China to be the Caribbean’s white knight. More effective remedies will have to come from the Caribbean itself.
One of the favoured solutions is to weave the smaller Caribbean countries closer together – economically, financially and politically. This would allow micro-states to rationalise the money they have to spend on the necessities of nationhood such as embassies or coastguard forces. A common market for goods, capital and labour could rear bigger companies.
“It’s hard to see how they can extricate themselves from their problems while insisting on remaining independent sovereign states,” notes Sir Ronald Sanders, a former diplomat for Antigua and Barbuda.
The Caribbean Community, or Caricom, was set up in the 1970s specifically for this purpose, but the Guyana-based body appears to have atrophied. Criticism is rife. “Caricom is a busted flush,” one observer says.
Organisations such as the IMF are supportive of closer co-operation, but some warn of its limits. Some officials have become cynical and doubt Caribbean politicians will truly relinquish any meaningful sovereignty, complaining that they have yet to fathom the depth of their crisis.
“Closer integration is like economic theology in the Caribbean,” says one official. “All the politicians chant about the importance of integration at meetings, but then go back home and say ‘no one is coming to our country to work without a work permit’.”
The Caribbean states do have some advantages, however. They are, for the most part, stable democracies and investments in education have forged a relatively highly skilled workforce. Although the “brain drain” is acute, emigrants’ remittances have become a vital source of foreign currency.
Moreover, many countries can count on plentiful resources. Trinidad and Tobago is a large exporter of liquefied natural gas. Guyana and Jamaica are leading bauxite producers. The Dominican Republic, the region’s biggest economy after Cuba, is growing relatively steadily.
Much can also be done to make the Caribbean more resilient to natural disasters. A disaster insurance facility is promising and the World Bank is advocating investments in buttressing buildings to lessen storm damage. “It’s cheaper to make something more durable and hurricane-proof than rebuilding it after a storm,” says Françoise Clottes, the World Bank’s Caribbean director.
Nonetheless, no one is under any illusion that the years ahead are going to be anything but tough. Debts are too high, the budget deficits too big and economies too weak for countries to be able to avoid deep budget cutbacks. That will prove painful.
“Poverty, insecurity and crime are going to go up,” warns Gerard Johnson, the Inter-American Development Bank’s Caribbean general manager. “This is an existential crisis.”
Petrocaribe: An imperilled lifeline of cheap oil
The death of Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chávez, will be felt keenly across the Caribbean, where there are fears that the socialist leader’s oil-funded largesse may begin to dry up.
Most countries in the region have come to depend on Venezuela’s subsidised oil through the Petrocaribe agreement for the smooth functioning of their economies.
Signatories can buy shipments of Venezuelan oil on extremely generous terms, receiving a lifeline for struggling economies that can ill-afford market rates. Some pay as little as 5 per cent upfront (at the most 50 per cent) and just 1 per cent interest on the rest, which can be paid over periods of up to 25 years.
Although Cuba is the biggest recipient of Venezuela’s aid, receiving around 100,000 barrels per day, worth more than $3bn last year, the smaller Caribbean islands import most if not all of the oil they consume, and are especially vulnerable.
Jamaica has said that if its Petrocaribe agreement were to end, it would need to find another $500m a year to pay for oil imports.
The Dominican Republic is saddled with about $3bn in debt for its 50,000 barrels per day, and is repaying much of its loan in kind. It recently sent Caracas a 10,000-tonne shipment of black beans.
Mr Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, is expected to safeguard Petrocaribe in the short term. But it will not last for ever. Mr Maduro will sooner or later be faced with some tough decisions as his own country’s economy faces severe challenges, which place the future of the policy at risk. Opposition politicians have called for an end to the discounted oil shipments.
“A lot of the smaller countries depend on the continuation of Chavismo in Venezuela,” says Victor Bulmer-Thomas, a professor at University College London’s Institute of the Americas.
Some countries have begun to take precautions. Offshore exploration has taken off in the past year across the region, with the Bahamas, Jamaica and Barbados all announcing plans to start oil and gas exploration in their territorial waters.
Here is a link to the Fincial Time article.
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His journey began in “the other Antigua”—Antigua, Guatemala—where Adam spent a month brushing up on his Spanish and traveling on the “chicken bus.” During his two months in Honduras, he served with an organization that helps improve the lives of poor children; in Nicaragua, he dug wells to install pumps for clean water and then stepped into the ring to face a savage bull; in Thailand, he rode an elephant and cut his hair into a mullet; in Australia, he hugged a koala, contemplated the present-day treatment of the Aborigines, and mustered cattle; in Poland, he visited Auschwitz; in Slovakia, he bungee jumped off a bridge; and in the Philippines, he went wakeboarding among Boracay’s craggy inlets and then made love to Ivana on the second most beautiful beach in the world.
His yearlong journey, which took two years to save for, was a spirited blend of leisure, volunteerism, and enrichment.
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Nicaragua offers low cost of living, beautiful colonial cities, spectacular beaches and a vibrant culture. A territorial tax system makes in an interesting county for foreigners.
Taxes in Nicaragua
Nicaragua taxes only income derived from Nicaraguan sources.
Picture of Managua, the capital of Nicaragua by gallohouse.com
For individuals, income tax is calculated on a progressive tax rate, up to a maximum of 30%. Taxable income is based on Nicaraguan source income. As a foreign retiree, you pay no taxes on out of country earnings.
Value added tax
This tax applies to the following acts performed in the national territory: sales of goods, providing of services, and importation of goods. It is calculated at a flat rate of 15% on the value of the goods or services. If you own a business the value added tax will be returned to you.
Property transfers are subject to a 1%-3% pre-payment income tax on the purchase price. While most sellers ask the buyer to pay it, you should be aware that it is a pre-payment of income tax; therefore, it is legally payable by the seller.
Real estate tax
Annual property taxes are approximately 1% of the 80% of the municipal cadastral value of the property. The cadastral value of the land is calculated substantially lower than the market price of the land.
There are two other critical factors that have also played a considerable role in defining Nicaragua’s fate as a retirement destination: a comprehensive retiree benefit program and the many desirable locations scattered throughout the country.
Investing in Nicaragua
In the last decade, Nicaragua has privatized nearly all its old state-owned monopolies, save for the public utilities, and has thus dramatically reduced the amount of government red tape investors have to contend with when they do business here. In addition, it has opened up all sorts of new markets.
A foreign investment law ensures you can repatriate 100% of your profits and, after three years, the initial investment as well. Even if you don’t “register” your investment, banks will freely repatriate profits. You’ll find no legal grounds for discrimination against you when you invest. The law allows for 100% foreign ownership in every economic sector. And there are no restrictive visa or work permit requirements to inhibit investment.
Law 306 gives you an incentive and makes it easy for you to help jump-start the industry and make a profit while you’re at it. Many tourist activities fall under the law’s umbrella, and with an investment in any one of them, you benefit through tremendous tax savings.
Low crime rates compared to other countries
Nicaragua is the second safest country in all of Latin America behind Uruguay, and Nicaragua has a lower reported crime rate than France, Germany, and the United States, according to a United Nations/Interpol study.
Run Your Tourist Business Tax Free for up to 10 Years
Nicaragua’s Law 306 enacted in September 1999 is the most attractive and aggressive–tourism incentive law in Latin America. If you’ve ever thought about opening your own B&B, running a tour business, or having a little arts and crafts shop, Nicaragua is the place to do it.
This law is sweeping in scope and offers benefits for investors who take advantage of the program. If your business qualifies, you pay no income or real estate taxes for up to 10 years, and bring in (or buy locally) all the supplies you need, from furniture and boats to linens and cash registers all tax free.
The application and approval process is fast. INTUR, Nicaragua’s institute of tourism, has outlined very clearly what you need to do. The law allows the agency just 60 days to approve your applications. What’s more, depending on the type of project, an investment of only $30,000 can qualify you for benefits.
In general, Law 306 offers investors the following benefits:
- Pay no income taxes for up to 10 years
- Pay no real estate taxes for up to 10 years
- Import into the country all the supplies you need to facilitate your investment tax free.
Nicaragua’s Retiree Benefit Program Makes a Retirement in Nicaragua Easy
The country’s “retiree” program is much like the Costa Rican program was in the 1980s, attracting thousands of expatriates to Nicaragua. To be eligible, you need only be over 45 years old and have a monthly income of at least $600. The Nicaraguan government provides significant tax incentives for foreigners, and encourage investment in the country.
The benefits come mostly in the form of tax incentives. As a foreign retiree, you:
- Pay no taxes on any foreign earnings.
- Can bring up to $20,000 of household goods, for your own home, into Nicaragua duty free.
- Can import or purchase one automobile for personal or general use duty- and tariff free up to $25,000, and sell it, tax-free, after five years.
- Can import an additional vehicle every five years under the same duty exemptions.
Where Are the Foreigners Retiring in Nicaragua Locating?
The hottest Nicaraguan retirement destinations are the colonial cities of Granada and Leon, the capital of Managua, and most notably the southwestern corner of the Pacific coast around San Juan del Sur, where beach front property options abound.
Nicaragua offers the lowest cost of living in Central America (lower than Panama) with prices 20% to 60% lower than the United States. It also offers an opportunity to purchase stunning beachfront, lake, or colonial real estate at great prices with low property taxes.
Nicaragua is an exotic land where the sun shines all day long with tropical rivers, colonial cities, friendly and lively people, and the largest body of fresh water south of the Great Lakes with the world’s only freshwater sharks.
Affordable Health Care in Nicaragua
Affordable health care is available in Nicaragua. There are several first class hospitals in or around the greater Managua area, with the Vivian Pellas Metropolitan Hospital being the most specialized. Throughout the remainder of the country there are ample amounts of quality clinics, hospitals, and doctors who are available for basic medical attention.
HTH Worldwide is also able to provide you with a comprehensive health care policy that will cover you not only in Nicaragua, but also in the United States, at 100% cost reimbursement. This plan provides a nice sense of comfort as you live in Nicaragua. It is recommended that when it comes time to move to Nicaragua you obtain Med Evac insurance (which can cost as low as $250 per year). This is a precautionary measure in case highly specialized equipment is not available in Managua.
Nicaragua’s laws resemble the old pensionado rules that were in place in Costa Rica in the 1980s, attracting thousands of expatriates to that country: They provide significant tax incentives for foreigners, and they encourage investment in the country.
Resident expatriates say it is as much the friendliness of the people that attracts them to Nicaragua as any other factor, such as the tropical climate, low price level, or attractive government incentives. But the government program is often a key deciding factor: It’s fairly easy to qualify for retiree status, the paperwork is minimal, and the benefits compare favorably with those in other, neighboring countries.
Law of Resident Pensioners and Retirees (Decree 628): Nicaragua passed legislation to encourage retirees and pensioners to move to the country. The Law of Resident Pensioners and Retirees gives benefits mostly in the form of tax incentives. To qualify, you’ll need to prove to the Nicaraguan government that you’re actually a citizen of the country where you claim your nationality, that you’re in good physical and mental health, that you’re in good standing with the local police, and that you have an income equivalent to at least $600 a month. Add an additional $100 for each dependent family member living with you in Nicaragua. The minimum age for eligibility is 45, but this can be waived if the applicant proves stable income.