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The Bahamas: the world's gateway to the Americas.

For years, "It's better in The Bahamas" has been the iconic slogan for the island nation's tourism campaigns. Today, the same can be said for the Island's global business, industry and financial services.

The nation's elected and business leaders have established a reputation among global bankers and financers as a stable democracy and tax-friendly haven a short flight from the US. With global trade taking center stage, business leaders from throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia--and especially China--are descending on the islands to stake their claims.

With an independent seat at the UN and membership in CELAC and CARACOM, the world Is taking notice. Next year the 2016 Inter-American Development Bank global annual meeting will be held in Nassau. In November the inaugural Sino Americas Summit, an "Economic Forum for the Americas," as some have called it, will bring together Chinese, Latin American and Caribbean dignitaries and business leaders to explore economic growth and development potential in areas including infrastructure, energy and agri-business.

Once thought of just as a tourism destination, The Bahamas has been discovered and transformed by a host of industries drawn to economic and political stability; proximity to regional markets, and a strong workforce. Exports have come to include pharmaceuticals, construction materials and refined petroleum. The market Is growing its own renewable energy bio science and research clusters, making the nation a crucial component of the global value chain.

For global interests, The Bahamas is strategically located as a natural connection between US and Canada and Caribbean countries, said Yuan Guisen, Chinese Ambassador to The Bahamas, whose President Xi Jinping has fostered bilateral relations with The Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie.

"It is a politically stable country with well-developed tourism and financial industry" the Ambassador said, "making it an important gateway of American market for Chinese investors in relevant Industries."

The Inter-American Development Bank is working closely with country leaders to address, reform or Improve such areas as air transport, trade, potable water; cheaper energy resources, natural resource preservation, the effects of climate change, disaster preparedness, citizen security and justice administration, private sector development and public financial management

With the creation of a National Development Plan for its 700 islands, IDB engagement could help steer diversification beyond the nation's reliance on tourism and financial services, which together account for more about 70% of the nation's GDR said Astrid Wynter IDB representative In The Bahamas. The nation's goal is to reach a fiscal surplus by 2017.

"All of these are critically important to business and investors," said Wynter whose organization's current portfolio of projects there with government and the private sector is valued at $260.5 million. "We have a solid, credible and trusting relationship based on a shared commitment to the development of the country

With a well-educated workforce, from skilled labor to professional services like accountants, lawyers and bankers, the island "doesn't require International human capital," said David Munoz, CEO with Deltec, the oldest private bank and trust group in The Bahamas, "As a result. The Bahamas is a highly industrious and Innovative nation."

Whether in its role as a Davos-like neutral destination of the Americas, a new development market, or a tourist haven for the world's general market and well-heeled travelers alike, "It's better In The Bahamas" has taken on all new meaning.

* CHINESE INVESTMENT

CHINESE INVESTMENT CHANGING FACE FUTURE OF THE BAHAMAS

While companies from countries around the world have raised their stakes in The Bahamas and the Americas, no one has done so more than China

At the First China-CELAC Ministerial Meeting held this January President XI Jinping proposed Increasing China-CELAC trade volume to $500 billion and doubling China's direct investment in Latin America to $250 billion in the next ten years.

Much of that already can be seen in The Bahamas. China is backing the $3.5 billion development of Baha Mar Resort a complex of hotels, casino, and leisure and convention facilities that currently ranks as the largest project of its kind in the Americas and China's largest anywhere outside its country The Export-Import Bank of China (CEXIM) provided $2.45 billion. From investment to travel, Chinese have expressed keen Interest in The Bahamas.

"China and The Bahamas share a similar stance on many major International and regional issues," Perry Christie, Prime Minister of The Bahamas, stated during an official visit to Beijing in January "Economically the two nations have realized a win-win scenario through cooperation, equality and mutual-benefits over a wide range of sectors."

Baha Mar could become the centerpiece of broad-reaching relations between the two countries, as well as a popular getaway for Chinese vacationers, said Sarkis Izmirlian, Chairman and CEO of Baha Mar. His comments came during a two-day forum for members of the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT) last November.

"China is the world's fastest-growing international tourism market, with an appetite for discovery. The Bahamas is poised to become a favorite destination for these tourists," Izmirlian said.

CCPIT was a precursor to the first ever Sino Americas Summit scheduled for July 2015 at Baha Mar The invitation-only event will attract more than 200 global leaders In business and government from China and throughout the Latin America and the Caribbean.

Chinese government and private investment in The Bahamas includes large-scale projects like national stadium of The Bahamas, an airport highway and North Abaco port, a $39 million port being built by China Harbour Engineering Company in cooperation between the two governments. The Nassau Hilton hotel acquired by China Construction America is the first investment and operation project by Chinese investor in The Bahamas.

"China-Bahamas investment cooperation has entered into a fast track,'' said Yuan Guisen, Chinese Ambassador to The Bahamas.

* TOURISM

BY SHIP AND PLANE, TOURISM GROWING NATIONWIDE

Across The Bahamas, the iconic tourism brand is getting an infusion of new travelers--and the companies who serve them.

In January 2015, Prime Minister Perry Christie announced during a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping a memorandum of understanding calling for direct air routes between the two countries. The port of entry, the newly expanded Sir Lynden Pindling international Airport in Nassau, has been recognized as a top airport in the Caribbean. It offers non-stop service and US Customs pre-clearance from throughout the US, and connections to Latin America, primarily through Panama. A new terminal is scheduled to open this year with expansion to better accommodate Boeing 747 and Airbus A380 aircraft. By 2020, the airport is predicted to accommodate 5.2 million annual passengers.

"Air transport is described as an economic engine which ... is an 'enabler of the growth of other economic sectors in the country such as tourism and international trade,"' Glenys Hanna Martin, Minister of Transport and Aviation, noted about the memorandum in an address to The Bahamas House of Assembly in January. "This singular act broke new ground for both countries."

The centerpiece of tourism development is the beachfront Baha Mar Resort Located on what's been referred to as the Bahamian Riviera, it will include a collection of elite hotel brands --Rosewood Hotels and Resorts, Grand Hyatt, SLS LUX, and the Las Vegas-style Baha Mar Hotel--along with a world-class spa and a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course.

Last July, Marriott International, Inc., announced the iconic 3,400-room Atlantis, Paradise Island resort had joined the hotelier's Autograph Collection of 60 independent lifestyle hotels. Also last year $19 million in renovations to the Melia Nassau Beach was expected to help revive Nassau's Cable Beach market The Albany luxury resort community on the island of New Providence has lured such investors as Tavistock Group and golfers Tiger Woods and Emie Els.

Cruise traffic and investment have grown in recent years. More than 970,000 guests aboard Royal Caribbean International's Oasis and Allure of the Seas call on Nassau--up from 300,000 just two years ago. In all, ships owned by parent Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. make 300 annual visits. "Private islands" also are seeing growth. Carnival Corporation operates two islands there, and RCCL has invested $35 million in its Coco Cay property

The Bahamian government "is a good partner to deal with," said Federico Gonzalez-Denton, RCCL Associate VP Government Relations. "They were one of the few islands that were Involved in the beginning of the cruise industry."

Nationwide, officials hope to grow tourism spending to $2.8 billion per year, according to a representative of The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. Promoters "have enhanced the image of The Bahamas by playing to the islands' strengths, the natural beauty, our heritage, both traditional and contemporary culture, and the diversity of the product on each of our islands."

* INFRASTRUCTURE

STADIUM, PORTS & HEAVY MACHINERY PUT THE BAHAMAS IN MOTION

When Central Michigan University almost pulled off what some came to call the "Nassau City Miracle"--erasing a 35-point, fourth-quarter deficit to nearly win the inaugural Popeyes Bahamas Bowl college football, game on Christmas Eve--lost In the discussion was where the game was played. The newly minted Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium, or The Bahamas National Stadium, is only the latest infrastructure project in the island nation.

To the east of Freeport and north of Nassau, the North Abaco port is taking shape as a $39 million facility being built by China Harbour Engineering Company The Arawak Cay Port which opened in 2012, was envisioned as a container port and freight terminal with three berths, warehouse space, containerized cargo, bulk and break bulk operations, and onsite customs department for entry processing and freight inspection. The container port last year was rated the region's most productive port by trade group Florida Shipowners, besting 24 other Caribbean ports.

At the Baha Mar Resort, US-based DCO Energy through Bahamian company OTE BM Ltd., is planning a seawater district cooling (SDC) system to provide air conditioning to the Nassau complex, said Pat Ehrhart vice president with DCO Energy. The system will use 40[degrees] Fahrenheit deep-ocean water in lieu of typical electrical AC units. The SDC system "has the potential to be of value In many other areas of world where access to cold water is viable and where a concentrated need for chilled water exits," Ehrhart said.

Engineering design and construction management firm AECOM Development Services and its Americas operations group is providing master planning and full design services for the existing 300,000 square foot 400-room Royal Oasis Hotel, its casino and convention facility as well as new 350,000-square-foot hotel tower and 650 timeshare units.

New development also impacts other sectors. The Caterpillar heavy equipment sold, rented and serviced by Machinery and Energy in Nassau, New Providence, Freeport and Abaco has seen need a spike with new construction and renovation projects. It's been especially robust over the past six months, said Richard Lucy the company's president and COO.

Even a purchase of nine naval vessels by the Royal Bahamian Defense Force powered by Caterpillar engines means more business for the company that will service them, he said.

"That's been a big pick up for us," he said.

* BANKING / ACCOUNTING / FINANCIAL SERVICES

FINANCIAL SERVICES THE BUSINESS WORLD BANKS ON

Though aglow in the tropical sunshine that lures millions of tourists, The Bahamas is best known by investors and financiers the world over for favorable financial services and other professional offerings.

Some 270 banks and trust companies from around the world are in The Bahamas, backed by $200 billion in assets, said Aliya Allen, CEO, Bahamas Financial Services Board, With 170 member firms, the public-private organization promotes the nation as an international financial services center and works closely with government regulators and the private sector to encourage favorable policies.

This "sophisticated financial industry" has attracted seven of the world's top eight private banks and 35 of the top 100 global banks, 120 licensed broker dealers and investment advisory firms, and 60 fund administrators, with 700 investment funds licensed in The Bahamas, said Myles J.L Culmer managing director of BDO Chartered Accountants & Advisors in Nassau.

Investors appreciate its tax-neutral platform, with no income, estate, inheritance or capital gains tax Moreover the nation has no restrictions on fund repatriation and no forced heirship laws for domiciled assets, Culmer said.

Along with its stable democracy and proximity to the US, The Bahamas have become sophisticated as an international financial center with an elevated brand recognition across securities, banking and insurance, said Christel Sands-Feaste, a partner in the commercial practice group and global chair of securities practice group the Nassau office of law firm Higgs & Johnson.

For corporations and investors, sovereignty political stability and proximity to US and Latin American markets are key attributes, said Daniel-Marc Brunner CEO of Andbank. Moreover even as the financial regulations evolve and present constant change, the nation's "willingness to adapt to those regulatory requirements in coming up with innovative solutions" will secure the nation's role among global financiers, he said.

Business has grown, with asset managers, wealth managers, captive insurance and others gaining interest Allen said. Even more investors are flagging their yachts here.

"We see financial services being wholly connected to the greater economic picture of The Bahamas," Allen said. "The Bahamas now are focusing on being much more of a one-stop shop for high and ultra-high net worth individuals."

HOME PORT FOR SHIP AND PLANES

Like many cruise lines, Royal Caribbean International registers its ships in The Bahamas. It's not alone. Between commercial vessels and private yachts, some 50 million gross tons of vessels fly The Bahamas flag, according to The Bahamas Maritime Authority. Why? The Bahamas flag offers favorable taxation and global recognition and service with offices in New York, London, Hong Kong and Seoul. Today, it's the fourth-largest ship registry.

Now, proponents are hoping to bring similar returns from the air. Some are calling for a Bahamas international aircraft registry. Already, Aruba, Brazil and the Cayman Islands have expanded their aircraft registry operations. If The Bahamas follow suit as backers hope, it could tap a multi-billion dollar regional marketplace.

"This will be incredibly advantageous and will be a value added component" to the marketplace, said Aliya Allen, CEO, Bahamas Financial Services Board. "That is the advantage of The Bahamas. We not only have the banking infrastructure, but the physical infrastructure has lent itself to developing a hub for all of these services."

Jeff Zbar is a Miami-area freelance business journalist and corporate copywriter jeff@jeffzbar.com
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Author:Zbar, Jeff
Publication:Latin Trade
Date:Mar 1, 2015
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