SINT MAARTEN/COMMENTARY - China is in the process of deepening its relationship with the countries and territories in the Caribbean Basin. Plans are underway to construct the People’s Republic of China Embassy in Antigua & Barbuda, and China will also be investing US$100 million in the expansion of Antigua’s port facilities. A number of Chinese investors have also shown interests in investing and developing tourism projects on the island.
China is also interested in extending the runway of the British Virgin Islands airport to the tune of over US$150 million. The runway would be lengthened from 4,645 feet to 7,100 feet. Currently, the runway is too short for large commercial flights.
Chinese officials have met with several government officials from British Overseas Territories such as Cayman Islands and Bermuda. The discussions centered on broadening China’s global business interests. Chinese Ambassador to the United Kingdom Liu Xiaoming was in the Cayman Islands in January where he confirmed that China would implement an agreement to grant Cayman “most favoured nation” status in registering ships entering Chinese ports. That status means concessions implemented will serve to reduce port fees paid by Cayman Islands-flagged ships.
The Chinese Ambassador was in Bermuda, another Overseas British Territory, looking into the potential for building relationships in trade and commerce (international business, reinsurance, investment potential). China has the second largest economy in the world after the United States of America. Bermuda’s shipping register where it concerns island-flagged ships, will receive “most favoured” status when vessels arrive in Chinese ports. This move would give Bermuda a competitive edge in the shipping registry business. This means that vessels would pay reduced port fees/dues.
One of the other areas discussed between Bermuda and China was tourism; millions of Chinese tourists leave their homeland each year to travel overseas on vacation. The Chinese Ambassador invited Bermuda to participate in the upcoming Chinese International Tourism Expo.
China has made considerable contributions to Dominica. An agreement was signed related to Economic and Technical Cooperation of over US$21 million, to be used for road rehabilitation projects. The island has also received 50 foggers to combat mosquito’s; US$1.5 million for police vehicles, equipment and training.
China has provided US$40 million to build a new national hospital in Dominica. The facility will comprise of 16,500 square meters of new construction, and 4,160 square meters of general repairs to the existing hospital plant. Total number of beds will increase from 230 to 372 beds. The new national hospital will offer pediatrics, gynecology, clinical labs, blood bank services, dialysis services, radiology, ultra-sound, intensive care unit, pathology, and a new operating theatre with four operating rooms. Construction will take 30-months.
Last September, the sod-turning ceremony of the Sint Maarten Pearl of China project took place. Sod-turning for the construction of St. Lucia’s Pearl of the Caribbean project took place last November and is expected to commence construction in 2017. It is a Chinese investment valued at US$2 billion comprising of a fully-integrated equestrian-oriented development (a state of the art horse race course) that includes the Royal Saint Lucia Turf Club and related entertainment, leisure and accommodation amenities.
The 700-acre project is being built to attract Chinese, Southeast Asia and Russian tourists and investment. It includes plans for a casino, resort and shopping mall complex, a free trade zone, and housing.
St. Lucia's Pearl of the Caribbean.
In the meantime, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) based in Washington DC has been in the process of helping thousands of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) to do business with China. The IDB said 3,000 business meetings were held at the 10th China-LAC Business Summit, whose main goal was to support SMEs from LAC with expanding their trade ties with China. IDB says trade between China and the region amount to US$250 billion and has grown nine times in the last 10-years. China is the second largest trading partner in LAC, according to an IDB study.
The Government of Sint Maarten has had discussions with Chinese diplomatic officials about a cooperation agreement between the country and China. Last year Pearl of China project for the Belair beachfront was announced, but nothing further has been said about the project. Investors indicated that construction would start in the first quarter of 2017 for a 326-room hotel with showroom and 450 apartments. Construction phase would last two years and the investment has been reported at US$120 million.
Chinese investments whether state pursued or by private investor initiative, will only further expand within the Caribbean Basin in the coming years as global trade and services further expands. According to the IDB, China’s demand for the region’s products is expected to grow in the medium and long-term. Since the first China-LAC Business Summit in 2010, the IDB has organized more than 10,000 business to business meetings between Chinese and regional countries.
More than 3,000 bilateral business meetings were organized in sectors such as software, fish exports and renewable energy. China is the largest investor in renewable energy, responsible for more than 60 per cent of total investments in the energy sector, and according to the IDB, China is also the world leader in infrastructure, adding that its companies consider investing in LAC a priority. Without a doubt, Chinese investments will facilitate growth and the socio-economic expansion and well-being of island economies.