At this point in our development as country St. Maarten, we need to look at areas of possible economic transformation. Such a vision would incorporate and be part and parcel of continuing to improve the quality of life of people and that of the country.
The areas identified for sustainable development would not increase our foot print as a society on our fragile environment, but would only enhance our country’s wealth which in turn can be re-invested for future generations.
As part of the vision, why can’t we develop the “St. Maarten Shipping Registry” and achieve recognition from the global market as a top jurisdiction for vessel registration and a popular flag of choice. Yes we can, we have achieved as a destination where our Port of St. Maarten is one of the top cruise ports in the Caribbean. Yes, we can, and yes we have achieved in cruise tourism, so we can also become one of the top Shipping Registry destinations of the world. And besides a shipping registry, let us not stop there but also develop our own “St. Maarten Aircraft Registry.”
The Cayman Islands (a British dependency) has developed this sector and they see the enormous opportunity for growth and development of the shipping industry, which has been considered so significant as a third pillar of the Cayman economy in the long-run. The registry has 1,900 vessels carrying the Cayman Islands flag and over 800 are mega/super-yachts which we see every season docked in Great Bay, Simpson Bay or in the Simpson Bay Lagoon. Besides the Cayman’s being a top jurisdiction for vessel registration, the additional benefits in this area still to be explored and developed by the Cayman Islands are environmental studies, maritime law, naval architecture and servicing commercial and leisure traffic.
As part of the vision, why not develop the “St. Maarten Stock Exchange” (SSX). The SSX can be a supporting element of a shipping registry, and is considered as a cost-effective alternative to listing on larger exchanges in North America or Europe, and would provide benefits to ship owners and managers.
Why not envision the development of the “St. Maarten International Business & Financial Center” that encompasses asset protection, wealthy management, insurance and banking services. This area has successfully been developed in other parts of the Caribbean and has contributed to the wealth of those countries.
The Cayman Islands for example in this sector employs 12,600 people or 36 per cent of total employment, out of a total population of 57,000. In December 2010, Barbados had 45 offshore banks, 242 captive insurance companies, 3.065 international business companies and 408 international societies with restricted liability.
In Bermuda (British dependency), the international business & financial sector contributes 24.2 per cent of total Gross Domestic Product (GDP), so one quarter of their economy is based on this sector, and provides 3,867 direct jobs. The British Virgin Islands (British dependency) gets 45 per cent of its GDP from this sector and has 750,000 offshore companies registered.
These sectors are all high paying jobs. All these new areas of opportunities for country Sint Maarten will have a spill-over affect into other areas of our national economy if we as a country were to facilitate economic transformation. It will besides creating opportunities for our educated people and those studying abroad first and foremost, it will also result in a better quality of life for all.
The trickle down affect will be felt throughout society; better services (education, health, senior citizens, youth care and development); better infrastructure; more public housing; and helping to create and build wealth for every member of society.
Again, do not let it become an excuse that because other islands already have these sectors that I mentioned, that we as a people cannot venture out and facilitate their development, because 25+ other islands in the region today are in the cruise and stay-over tourism business as well, and that never stopped us from developing both. We have succeeded in doing it the St. Maarten way; by being visionary, innovative, and pro-active; the hospitality and friendliness of our people both North and South; and the natural beauty of our country, are some of the feats and assets that have kept us ahead and up-front.
Key to economic transformation and development is a stable political, social and economic environment. The country has experienced some turbulent times within its first three years and two-months of country status.
The dynamics of country St. Maarten should not dare us to dream. We have done it before, but we need to continue. The region and the world are not static. What is an advantage today is a disadvantage tomorrow.
2014 and beyond will require 21st century thinking.
By Roddy Heyliger