Smith expects trade boost after mission to East Asia

The content originally appeared on: The BVI Beacon

A “significant” boost to the territory’s economy will follow in the wake of a major trade mission to the Asia-Pacific region, Deputy Premier Lorna Smith has predicted.

As well as gains for the financial sector, Ms. Smith said the 11-day visit also strengthened educational links between the Virgin Islands and the Far East and will produce benefits for the territory’s infrastructure.

Asked what impact the tour would have on trade, Ms. Smith, who is also financial services minister, told a press conference last week, “The reception that we had would suggest to me that it would increase significantly.”

The visit included the five financial and technological hubs of Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Shenzhen and Singapore.

Education, climate change

Ms. Smith also said that strengthening the links between the VI and the five cities would spill over into education and combating climate change.

Face-to-face meetings, she added, were a key factor to success in such areas.

“It had been over four years since a government-led delegation visited the area, which is a serious gap in a region that values strong personal relationships above everything else,” she said. “I am delighted to say that those we met share our belief that the BVI’s relationship with Asia can only get stronger. And they were keen to underscore the importance of trade between us.”

Ms. Smith said there had been particular interest shown regarding wider relationships with the VI in the technology powerhouse of Shenzhen.

“Shenzhen is the city where, perhaps, we have the most extensive relationship,” she said.

“It is the technological and industrial beating heart of China, and this year we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the memorandum of understanding we signed with Shenzhen in 2014. There are 77 trading BVI companies based in Shenzhen representing a combined value of $3 billion investments.”

Education

Ms. Smith added that education is a key part of the relationship and that the VI’s Hong Kong office has already started a search for a student to receive the first scholarship to study in Shenzhen.

“During my discussions with the city’s officials, it was clear that we can make much more of the agreement between us,” she said. “The MOU outlines a range of technical assistance which the city of Shenzhen is willing to provide the BVI with.”

More university scholarships are also in the works, as are exchange programmes that will allow VI students to study in Shenzhen, she added.

The city, she said, may also provide “technical assistance to the BVI in the areas of waste disposal management and technical assistance to the BVI around climate resilience and adaptation.”

Other support

The deputy premier said that offers of support for the territory had also been made in Hong Kong and Singapore.

“The Hong Kong government has offered technical support to help strengthen our small and medium-sized enterprises programme, and Singapore is offering support for the digital transformation of our fintech offer,” she said.

Monetary authorities from both cities, she added, have offered training opportunities to staff from the BVI Financial Services Commission.

Ms. Smith said she did not yet know the cost of the tour, but she stressed that the representatives from 11 firms travelling with her paid their own way.

“I want to say thank you to the private sector, who funded their own participation in the mission,” she said.

The tour began in Hong Kong before reaching Shenzhen, where more than 300 financial industry representatives and other professionals took part in two days of talks regarding what financial services the VI can offer foreign firms.

China already accounts for 40 percent of the territory’s overseas trade, according to government.