Lapped on either side by the waves of both the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Barbados has had a centuries old history as a point from which investors from the world’s major metropoles could launch into new and emerging markets, and as a meeting point where new and old ideas combined to take on new life and spread their influence and change across the globe. Barbados’s global influence has often belied its small stature over the centuries, and therefore the repeated expressed desire by Prime Minister, The Honourable Mia A. Mottley, to make this island a hub for global business is not wishful thinking but simply part of the ongoing evolution of the role that this island has played in the past as a major commodities and trading hub.

The global financial services and global business sector continues to be the fastest-growing pillar of the Barbados economy. A combination of factors has succeeded over the years in keeping the sector on a growth trajectory despite some homegrown and external challenges. Having finally begun to emerge from the economic doldrums of the global financial crisis, the small island nation had begun in the last few years to scale up its outreach to international investors, selling them on our stability, integrity, and strong regulatory environment meant to inspire a new level of confidence. Interest was high and 2020 had opened to visits from several high profile investors who were particularly interested in travel and tourism opportunities, including the long-term lease of the Grantley Adams International Airport. However, despite the abrupt turn of events caused by a pandemic that few imagined would unfold in their lifetime, there are still fundamentals that remain to offer a unique Barbados advantage.

In the face of the debilitating impact of the novel Coronavirus, COVID-19, on the travel sector, the island’s geographic location and solid airlift network has positioned it as a valuable logistics hub for trade and investment into Latin America and the Caribbean. Direct flights between Barbados and Panama have reinforced the notion of this island as the gateway to Latin America as mid-2021 is on schedule to see south-south connections ramped up and travel to all major south and central American cities become possible from Barbados. Airlift between major African cities in Kenya and Ghana is also being pursued in earnest by Barbadian foreign affairs and tourism officials and the reconnections between Africa and its diaspora are poised to also take flight.

Barbados has begun to welcome a growing class of Digital Nomads to live, work and do their business across the globe

COVID-19 forced another type of evolution of global business as government departments and business operating both locally and globally increasingly incorporated the use of digital technology into their business practices in a bid to survive in the new physically distanced environment. This evolution took place on the backbone of a robust telecommunications infrastructure that provides for real time shares trading and other financial transactions. This has paved the way for the Barbados Stock Exchange’s growing International Securities Market, which is on the cutting edge having opened up to trading in digitized security tokens within the past two years. This level of connectivity has become even more important as Barbados has begun to welcome a growing class of Digital Nomads to live, work and do their business across the globe in the relative security that the worst effects of the pandemic have not undermined the ability to live a high-quality life on the island.

That Barbados could be so attractive to, and an integral part of the strategic planning for, both already established global businesses that have chosen to build out their operations in fulfilment of international economic substance regulatory requirements, and individuals who have chosen to direct their worldwide operations from poolside thanks to a 12-month Welcome Stamp visa, is also driven by a professional network of individuals who provide advisory services that are world-class. From legal to financial, to compliance advice, these individuals offer structured solutions that reduce the cost of doing business while propelling growth for reinvestment. This can be accomplished because Barbados has a truly global network of over 40 bilateral investment treaties and double taxation agreements that provides protection while standing up to the scrutiny of multilateral authorities.

The offshore/onshore dichotomy has been removed from the Barbados business environment since 2019, as the corporate tax rate was harmonised for both domestic and international entities. With that came the expectation, in a time before COVID-19, that a lower tax burden would equally allow indigenous Barbados businesses to contemplate competing regionally and even empowering them to go global in the industries where they have an advantage. The changes to the tax regime was just one part of a revamp of commercial legislation on the island that saw the Companies Act updated and revisions to the legislation covering insurance, banking and trusts to ensure that the framework on which solutions can be built and offered is keeping pace with international expectations.

The island extends a well-regulated and supportive environment for business and it is expected that, once the uncertainties of the pandemic are brought under control, the dream of Barbados as a true global business centre can be realised.