Good day all,
I am holding this press briefing to provide you with an update on my recent meetings in London where, among other things, I attended the United Kingdom–Overseas Territories Joint Ministerial Council on European Negotiations. As you are aware, while I was the President of the United Kingdom Overseas Territories Association (UKOTA) last year, I led efforts to secure this important meeting which was agreed last November at the annual JMC. It was essential that at political level the OTs views were heard ahead of the UK Government triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to formally begin negotiations on Britain’s exit from the EU.
The discussions on OT priorities for Brexit negotiations were constructive. I presented the BVI’s position, which I am confident was heard by UK Ministers who included Minister for Exiting the EU Robin Walker, Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Baroness Analey, Minister of State for Department of Trade Lord Price, CVO and Minister of State for International Development The Rt. Lord Bates. I also had a follow-up courtesy call with Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Theresa May along with other Overseas Territories Leaders that was indeed a sign of goodwill.
The BVI priorities I set out covered freedom of movement, international trade and EU funding.
Freedom of Movement
I stressed the importance of freedom of movement to the people of the BVI for business, education, leisure and other purposes. For those holding OT passports, you are currently able to move freely throughout the Schengen Area which is comprised of a number of European countries. The UK confirmed that all of this will be considered in the forthcoming negotiations with the EU on freedom of movement.
I also discussed with UK Ministers the importance of maintaining the BVI and other OTs’ tariff and quota-free trade in goods with the EU. My Government is intent on becoming a fisheries exporter in the future and the EU is a major market to whom we wish to export. The UK understands this and will advise in the near future on what options will be open to the OTs in this regards, whether under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules or under a free-trade deal with the EU.
I also emphasized the importance of the BVI maintaining market access to the EU with respect to financial services, legal services and other professional services. I urged the UK to help ensure this access is maintained by supporting the BVI’s efforts to not be illegitimacy placed on an EU list of non-cooperative jurisdictions for tax purposes.
Beyond trade with the EU, I reiterated my call for a new economic partnership between the UK and the OTs after Brexit. The UK is already beginning to explore a number of possible trade agreements with Commonwealth countries and other international partners. The BVI can benefit from inclusion in such trade agreements, as well as bilateral investment treaties under which foreign direct investment can be more efficiently channeled and through which our arbitration centre and commercial court can be further used by international businesses.
UK firms can also benefit from trading through BVI in places like China where we have memorandum of understandings on cooperation with the cities of Tianjin and Shenzen that provide access to their special economic zones. In Commonwealth countries in Africa and South Asia where English common law is practiced, BVI corporate structures can also provide UK firms with vehicles by which to invest these emerging economies.
My Government continues to study the potential impact of Brexit on our commerce, particularly with respect to our yachting sector. We have a number of European owned yachts which are docked in the BVI during the winter months in Europe. My Government will share our findings with the UK once research has been completed.
I also took the opportunity to highlight the challenges posed to our UK tourism business by the significant drop in the value of the pound which has made our destination less competitive compared to various other jurisdictions geographically closer to Europe. Some analysts forecast the pound will reach parity with the dollar by the end of the year. This is another reason why we have to urgently improve our airlift capacity so we do not continue to fall behind in the UK and European tourism markets.
On the question of EU funding, I reminded UK Ministers that the BVI has benefitted from our association with the EU. This has included a number of projects that include: a small and medium enterprise project for the Caribbean that has provided invaluable technical support to the BVI’s small businesses; construction at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College of the Culinary Arts Centre, Library and Resource Centre and Eileen Parsons Auditorium; construction of the Sage Mountain and Copper Mine Visitor Centres; establishment of an early warning system in the territory extreme weather events; and strengthening of the management and conservation of local beaches and the nearshore environment.
The UK Government has assured us that the current round of EU programming for the OTs on climate change, marine biodiversity and sustainable energy will be supported through to 2020. I have asked that the UK Government give consideration to the inclusion of BVI in any post-2020 UK support to Small Island Developing States for the sustainable development, particularly in the management of our environment.
My Government is also exploring the possibility of post-Brexit relations with the EU via CARICOM and CARIFORUM. I will update you on this in due course.
I am pleased that the UK Government has agreed to have a follow-up ministerial meeting on Brexit negotiations with the Overseas Territories in June and again in November. In the interim, BVI officials will be fully involved in ongoing UK-OT technical discussions on Brexit.
While in the UK I was also able to discuss BVI’s Brexit priorities with Mark Field MP, Vice President of the Conservative Party.
In preparation for follow-up discussions in the UK later this year, my Government will establish a Brexit Task Force that will prepare a White Paper on the implications of Brexit for the BVI that will set out the risks and opportunities posed by Brexit.