HONOURABLE ANDREW A. FAHIE
PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE OF THE BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS
XII MINISTERIAL FORUM FOR DEVELOPMENT IN LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN 2020
13TH JANUARY 2021
Luis Felipe Lopez-Calva, Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, UNDP
His Excellency David Choquehuanca Caspedes, Vice President of Bolivia
Ms. Martha Delgado, Undersecretariat for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights, Mexico
Her Excellency Janaina Tewaney Mencomo, Minister of Government, Panama
Ms. Isabel Maldonado, Minister of the Technical Secretariat, Tona Plan Uda Vida, Ecuador
Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentleman, good morning.
I would like to begin by thanking my dear friends, Luis Felipe and ECLAC Executive Secretary Alicia Barcena, and the Government of Colombia, for convening this timely Ministerial Forum for Development in Latin America and the Caribbean. It has certainly helped us to focus our minds on finding solutions to the continuing public health emergency and economic crisis caused by COVID-19. I commend UNDP and ECLAC for the critical support they have provided to the region since the onset of the global pandemic, especially the advocacy done on behalf of Small Island Developing States in the Caribbean whose economies have been particularly hard hit by the spread of the virus. I can say with conviction, Luis Felipe, that I believe every effort is being made by you and your colleagues to ensure no one is left behind. Thank you.
Ladies and gentleman, I am grateful for this opportunity to briefly share with you how the British Virgin Islands is managing the economy under the present circumstances, particularly in terms of the adjustments we have made to economic policy in response to the negative impact of COVID-19 on the tourism sector, which accounts for two-thirds of GDP.
After the unavoidable emergency closure of our borders in March 2020, which was followed by a lockdown, tourism revenue collapsed shortly thereafter. These developments brought the entire society to a standstill. We could not reopen the economy until we were certain that COVID-19 was effectively under control.
Our first step was to intensify our health response to the pandemic. We adopted strict public hygiene and social distancing requirements for individuals, businesses, organisations and institutions. This prepared the society for a gradual exit from the lockdown through a phased reopening. The demonstrated adherence to the new requirements enabled us to successfully reopen the internal market for goods and services. However, businesses reliant on tourism for income came under intense financial pressure that induced a sharp spike in unemployment. In response, we approved a modest stimulus package that provided social assistance to the vulnerable, financial payments to affected businesses and civil society, and an injection of capital into the economy in the form of a social housing development. These measures helped to stabilise the social situation on the ground and to soften the economic impact on the private sector.
To help compensate for the loss of economic growth generated by tourism, we increased Government spending on public infrastructure to help boost economic activity in the economy, particularly in the construction sector. We targeted infrastructure projects for completion by the private sector that will increase the economy’s long-term competitiveness, build climate resilience and spur sustainable development. For example, among the projects under way or in the pipeline are solar parks, social housing, airport upgrades, seaport construction, sewerage system development, renovation of public administration buildings, road repair and road resurfacing. Their rollout has provided much needed revenue for local companies and workers in the construction sector. The multiplier effect is reflected in the uptick in economic activity in our internal market over the past months. Many of our local retail and wholesale businesses have been able to generate steady income for a sustained period based in part on the dollars circulating in the economy from monies spent on infrastructure projects.
We took a further step toward the recovery of our economy on 1st December 2020, when the borders were reopened to visitors under a robust set of entry and health protocols. The arrangements put in place have performed reasonably well thus far. Our screening procedures have been successful in netting and isolating any imported cases of COVID-19. Numbers remain low, but we continue to adjust our protocols as necessary to ensure the safety of the public. We are pleased to see the return of visitors and anticipate that the relatively low number of tourists currently on island will significantly increase by the next tourism season. To ensure the British Virgin Islands remains competitive in the global marketplace over the long-term, we are developing a new tourism strategy that will position us for continued success and sustainability.
All of the economic measures I have described have helped to place a floor under the economy. Financial services continues to contribute to economic growth as the sector’s recovery further strengthens. The British Virgin Islands is forecast to experience very modest economic growth in 2021. However, this depends on whether COVID-19 remains under control or if new outbreaks require restrictions to be reintroduced that would choke off economic growth. My Government will continue to build on both the health and economic gains that we have made.
Excellencies, ladies and gentleman, as I wrap up my remarks, let me just say that while we know the global pandemic has placed the Sustainable Development Goals at risk, the British Virgin Islands views the SDGs as a catalyst for post-pandemic recovery. We believe that the transition required to achieve them will boost economic growth over the long-term, especially as transaction and environmental costs drop over time. This is why I am very pleased that at the upcoming Fourth Meeting of the Forum for Latin America and the Caribbean in March, there will be a Summit of the Associate Members Countries (AMCs) of ECLAC that will focus on our challenges in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The British Virgin Islands is currently developing a National Sustainable Development Plan with the assistance of ECLAC’s Sub-regional Headquarters for the Caribbean in Port of Spain. The UNDP Barbados Office will also be assisting us in regard to the sectoral strategies that must be developed to execute the plan. In addition, the Resident Coordinator’s Office for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean will coordinate the involvement of other UN agencies.
Madam Chair, I will close by saying that as we continue to confront the global pandemic, let us not lose sight of the sustainable development goals that can help us to achieve the resilience and quality of life which every society and all peoples deserve.
I thank you.