Ladies and gentlemen:
Before I begin my remarks, I want to pause and acknowledge that today is September 11th. For the rest of our lives, we will set aside time on this date, for remembering. Twenty-two years later, the tragedy is still fresh in our minds. But so too is the heroism of the firefighters who rushed towards the danger, into the flames. It was a lesson in courage, and strength, and service. When we talk to those too young to remember the events of that day, we can share not just a story about the damage that hate can inflict, but a story about the unity that sacrifice can inspire.
It is a pleasure to be here with you. As an avid sports fan, I know I can be confident I am surrounded by like-minded people when I have the pleasure of visiting Chicago.
What I’m hoping to accomplish in the Windy City is that we end our time together with wind in our sails, confidently charting a course for the safe harbours of The Bahamas.
There has always been a lot of interaction and cross-pollination between The Bahamas and the US. James Weldon Johnson, who wrote, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” was of Bahamian descent. The late Sir Sidney Poitier hailed from our shores. And the first Bahamian to play Major League Baseball, Andre Rodgers, played for the Chicago Cubs.
This year, we celebrated our 50th year of Independence. 50 years of growth and unprecedented success as a small island nation with the third-highest GDP per Capita in the Western Hemisphere. As we construct our National Development Plan for the next 50 years, we are building on our strengths, and there are extraordinary opportunities for strategic partnerships between The Bahamas and stakeholders in Chicago and the Midwest.
Our very beautiful archipelago is a stable and receptive environment for doing business – one that is getting better every day.
This coming week marks two years in office for my administration, during which we’ve enjoyed tremendous success with investors, setting the stage for sustainable growth and prosperity. Our resilience and our ability to weather external shocks have helped us persuade investors to see us as a “safe harbour for investments”.
We are focused on making strategic investments that grow and diversify our economy, while continuing to strengthen our country’s fiscal health.
I am pleased to report that our post-pandemic recovery plan has been a resounding success on all fronts. When we came into office, we ended curfews and lockdowns and Emergency Orders and travel visas, and showed we could manage a health crisis and protect our most vulnerable citizens without repressive measures that hurt our people and our economy.
The Bahamian economy has recovered at a healthy rate with real GDP growth of 14.4% in 2022 and 17.0% in 2021, outperforming regional peers.
By all indications, we are projected to continue to see GDP growth for the foreseeable future.
We are not sitting still, either – we are revamping domestic and foreign direct investment policies to ensure a supportive environment. We are improving both internal systems and external ones, to ensure we have the most productive and efficient practices.
You may have heard of our tourism industry’s slogan: “It’s Better in The Bahamas”…
I can assure you that is indeed the case, in ways too numerous to count!
But for our purposes, we can focus on how we enjoy some jurisdictional advantages that make our nation an ideal locale for doing business.
Along with Canada and Mexico, we are one of the closest nations to the United States – and we are strategically positioned as a trans-Atlantic shipment and travel hub for the Americas.
We are a tax-neutral jurisdiction that openly welcomes investors whose vision for their businesses aligns with our labour market and economic needs.
While we are considered a tax-neutral or low-tax region, which can be an appealing prospect for investors, our international record for compliance with international transparency and accountability standards is stellar. In fact, in December 2022, we became only the 6th nation in the world to become largely compliant with the Financial Action Task Force’s 40 Recommendations related to compliance with anti-money laundering, counter-terrorism financing, and transparency standards.
Our resilient external position is bolstered by the second-highest level of foreign exchange reserves among our regional peers, and our national debt management strategies are working – government deficits are on a downward trajectory.
The Bahamas’ scores of 84.6 in corruption control and 77.4 in political stability, rival those of high-income and developed nations. A Governance Indicator score of 76.3 further highlights our status as a transparent and responsible nation.
In essence, when you invest in our safe harbour, you can be sure you are investing in a stable environment with responsible government practices that will give your investments the opportunity to thrive unimpeded.
From an industry perspective, we are primed for continued expansion.
Of course, that conversation begins with our number one industry, tourism. We have built on our standing as a regional leader in tourism over the past two years with year-over-year increases of 233% between 2021 and 2022, and over 5 million tourist arrivals in the first half of 2023.
We’ve focused investments on increasing air arrivals throughout our islands and improving our core experiences through new cruise port facilities. We are on track for a record-breaking year, even as we are investing in new initiatives for future growth.
Local resorts are benefitting from the surge in numbers with many local enterprises, like Atlantis and Baha Mar, seeing record revenues. Smaller resorts and other businesses that support these enterprises – like tours and excursion companies – are certainly seeing their share of related revenues.
Moving forward, we are working to attract major tourism investments, especially on our less populated Family Islands, each of which offer its own local and very special version of truly idyllic paradise. I grew up on Cat Island – so I’m partial to the warmth of our tight-knit communities, our rake-n-scrape music, and sailing regattas – but the truth is, each island is special. We’re building new airports across our islands, and building on progress in attracting eco-tourism resorts and experiences, as well as sports and cultural tourism opportunities.
Our financial sector continues to provide a strong foundation for economic stability and investments, with assets representing about 164% of GDP in 2022.
Financial services is our second-largest industry, and we have long been known as one of the world’s best environments for wealth management and wealth generation.
Market-responsive wealth management vehicles like SMART funds and ICONS are renowned for their flexibility and suitability for a wide range of market needs. We are known for having among the strongest trusts and estate planning legislative frameworks in the world, and in keeping with the times, we have worked to strengthen our regulatory framework for digital assets, earning us accolades and recognition for our innovation.
As a result, we are seeing healthy growth in Fintech, as we seek to further establish ourselves as a regional leader in digital assets.
The government has embraced Fintech — in fact, we were the first country in the world to roll out a Central Bank Digital Currency. Our “Sand Dollar” empowers unbanked populations, providing financial inclusion through a stable, digital fiat currency.
A major focus for growth is the Green Economy, where we are laying strong foundations – sometimes quite literally — by prioritizing the adoption of climate-resilient infrastructure and technologies.
We are rolling out a number of solar plants in our Family Islands and are seeking to expand those efforts. On our most populous island, New Providence, home to our capital city of Nassau, we are exploring ways to upgrade our grid and power generation capacity through the adoption of cleaner, more affordable energy.
It is a top priority for us – and a major undertaking – one which will require strategic partnerships and considerable investments.
Our commitment to the Green Economy extends to small and medium-sized businesses, as we work on a new facility to help them embrace green technology, reducing their carbon footprints and operating costs. These businesses also have opportunities to generate capital and funding through loans, seed funding, and investments provided through government business development efforts.
Funding has been directed specifically toward food security enterprises, as we make unprecedented investments in agriculture by empowering farmers and agri-business entrepreneurs to expand local food production and adopt new technologies for sustainable farming.
Climate resilience is high on our agenda. Building climate-resilient infrastructure and protecting our shorelines is critical to protecting lives and livelihoods.
As you’re aware, small island nations like ours have contributed the least to the climate crisis.
We are continuing our advocacy on the global stage for increased reductions of emissions and for multilateral banks to make changes that can leverage private investments and create fair – and win-win – climate finance.
Consider this: our seagrass meadows, which cover an astonishing 92,000 square kilometres – appear to be absorbing as much or even more carbon than the Amazon Rainforest. Another way to say “small island state” is “large ocean state” – and the stewardship of our beautiful and biodiverse waters matters to everyone. We have been mapping our seagrasses with the help of not just scientists but tiger sharks, who are a critical part of our underwater surveying team, wearing cameras and sending back data points. It’s always good to have apex predators on your side.
This is more than an academic exercise: We intend to be the first country in the world to issue Blue Carbon Credits. The IMF has acknowledged Blue Carbon as an asset class and has indicated interest in purchasing our Blue Carbon credits when our registry is activated in 2024.
We are exploring the best options for tokenizing and leveraging these assets; it’s an exciting time for us and we’re proud to be pioneers.
We are also working to build a pipeline of talent so that our young people are ready to participate in new Blue Economy opportunities, including conservation. We have robust scholarship programmes at the University of The Bahamas and the Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute, as well as educational opportunities through the Technical Cadet Corps and collaborations with Maritime training institutes.
We are investing in two new hospitals on the islands of New Providence and Grand Bahama, and we are preparing the new generation of healthcare professionals through the Public Hospital Authority Academy. We are always looking for ways to improve healthcare across our archipelago.
The Bahamas is rich with opportunities in a diverse range of sectors, and the list of emerging opportunities grows every day.
Our commitment to sustainable practices, economic growth, and good governance makes us an ideal partner for investments.
As I close this evening, I would like to acknowledge the nearly ten years of distinguished service by the Honorary Consul, Michael Fountain, as our “man in Chicago.” Thank you for your service.
And thank you all for your time and attention. I hope we’ve inspired you to be part of the exciting change and progress in my country. Just as you’ve so warmly welcomed me to Chicago today, I look forward to welcoming you to The Bahamas soon, as partners in building a more prosperous future together.