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by Investors Offshore Editorial, May 2012 , 25 May, 2012
This feature focuses on the Caribbean island of Barbados. More famous for its beaches and as a destination for millions of tourists than as a location for offshore business, Barbados has nonetheless developed a well regulated financial services industry offering a surprisingly wide array of offshore products from banking to trusts to insurance. Whilst the island is not quite on a par with the higher profile offshore centres in the region, such as Bermuda or the Cayman Islands, for the investor, Barbados offers economic and political stability along with a number of tax and investment incentives, and close economic ties with the United States.
History, Geography & Economy
Located in the Windward Islands, Barbados is a 270 square mile island about 100 miles east of St Lucia and St Vincent & the Grenadines and 200 miles to the north of Trinidad & Tobago, in the south east of the Caribbean. As one would expect, the climate is mild subtropical all year round, with two distinct seasons: the dry season, which occurs in the first half of the year from December to June (and is generally the most popular period for tourists); and the rainy season which tends to hit in the latter months of the year (also the hurricane season).
As an ex-British colony, the island was first cultivated by settlers to grow tobacco, with sugar soon taking over as the staple cash crop. However, agriculture has been superseded by more modern industries, namely tourism and financial services, and for a quarter of a century, successive governments have welcomed offshore business.
While Barbados can't claim to have any of the world's largest offshore business sectors, it has developed a good mix of successful communities in banking, insurance, International Business Company registration and administration, trusts and shipping. The Barbadian dollar's peg to the US dollar at 2:1 has helped to ensure exchange rate stability.
According to the Central Bank of Barbados, the international business and financial services sector contracted in 2010 for a second year, but by less than in 2009. For the first nine months of 2010, the number of new licenses issued to companies operating in the sector was 8% below the number issued in the corresponding period of 2009. The number of registered offshore banks declined by 6% during the year and total assets fell 12%. However, the number of active companies in the sector at the end of March 2011 was 2,411, a 6% increase compared to March 2010. Private capital inflows were significantly higher in the first quarter of 2011 than in the corresponding period of 2010.
The Barbadian economy remained stable in 2011, in a climate of undiminished international economic uncertainty
GDP per head (2010) is about USD21,700 at PPP (among the higher Caribbean figures). Inflation has been under control, but unemployment is a black spot: after reaching as high as 25% during the early 1990s as an IMF austerity programme bit. It had fallen to 11% in 1999, and by 2006 had decreased to 7.6% - the lowest rate for some years. By 2008 however, unemployment had begun to grow again, reaching 8.1% that year, 10% in 2009 and more than 11% in September 2010, and was at 12% by the end of 2011. Growth in 2007 was 3.3%, but it fell to 1.5% in 2008, unsurprisingly. The economy contracted by 5.3% in 2009 in the wake of the global financial crisis and growth remained just below 0% in 2010. Economic growth reached an underwhelming 0.5% in 2011. The growth rate in 2012 may be 1% or less, unless the international economic and financial climate improves, says the country's Central Bank.
Much of the island's economic exuberance up to 2006 was due to preparations for the cricket World Cup, held in March, 2007. During 2006, real tourism output grew by an estimated 2.5%, reversing the 2.2% decline experienced in 2005, as a rise in long-stay tourism more than outstripped a fall-off in cruise passenger arrivals. However, tourism, the main engine of economic growth, was static in 2011, according to the Central Bank. Despite a significant improvement of 7% in longstay arrivals, tourism output grew by only 0.3%, primarily as a result of the 5.6% decline in average length-of-stay between 2010 and 2011. The US and the UK markets rose by 5.5% and 4.4%, respectively. However, the Canadian market contracted by 0.5%, an improved performance given the 3% decline during the first half of the year. More affordable air travel, with the advent of the low-cost airline Redjet, boosted arrivals from the CARICOM region, with the performance of the Trinidad and Tobago market being particularly noteworthy (a 35% increase).
In January, 2006, Barbados was one of six Caricom member states which formally signed a declaration of their governments' compliance with the provisions of the Treaty establishing the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSM). Heads of government signed a document entitled 'Declaration by Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community marking the coming into being of the Caricom Single Market'. These Member States entered into Single Market arrangements on 1 January 2006.
Most member states of CARICOM had signed up by 2008. It will be a while however before the CSME represents much more than token integration. Initially, freedom of movement for certain categories of people, and some mutual reductions of customs tariffs are the main features of the new grouping. Moves towards a common currency, a regional stock exchange and other economic measures will take longer to achieve.
The last elections held in January 2008, saw the DLP, led by the late David Thompson, end the BLP's bid for a fourth successive term in government, taking 20 seats in the 30-seat House of Assembly. Freundel Stuart succeeded Thompson as Prime Minister in October 2010.
Barbados has recently established a Financial Services Commission, designed to regulate and supervise the operations of the non-banking financial sector.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Senator Maxine McClean, said following the March 8, 2011 passage of the bill which established the new regulator that the entity will strengthen and consolidate the functions carried out by the Supervisor of Insurance, and the credit union arm of the Cooperatives Department and the Securities Commission. "Barbados now has in place a supervisory and regulatory regime that is efficient and effective enough to govern the country's overall financial system and ensure that it continues to operate at a standard that satisfies best practices," she explained.
According to the Minister, the Commission's establishment is intended to strengthen the system, for: "As we become more sophisticated in our operations, the level of regulation has to change [and] the degree and scope of regulation has to be enhanced."
"The creation of this new body is not intended to restrict the practices of private sector organizations and third sector organizations - as I like to call [financial] cooperatives, as they seek to deliver service to Barbadians. It is meant to encourage prudent corporate principles which will preserve their long-term stability and secure the financial services sector," she explained.
Barbados established an offshore banking sector under the Offshore Banking Act 1979 (which was replaced by the International Financial Services Act, 2003) and the country is home to 43 international banks (as of April 25, 2012). To qualify and obtain a license, an applicant must obtain the consent of the Minister to incorporate for the purpose of offshore banking. The applicant must also: show that it is an eligible company or a qualified foreign bank; state the names and addresses of its director; submit a certified copy of its articles of incorporation; give particulars of the proposed banking activity; submit the names of shareholders who are residents of Barbados and the number of shares held by them; have at least one of the directors resident in Barbados; and meet minimum capital requirements set by the Central Bank.
Effective February 1, 2006, returning Barbadian nationals may hold foreign currency accounts with a limit equivalent to BDS100,000 provided the funds credited to such accounts represent foreign currency earnings from abroad in the form of pensions, rental income, interest, dividends or other foreign income.
In October 2008, the Central Bank announced the further liberalisation of exchange controls to facilitate CSME transactions in fulfilment of stated commitments by Barbados. Under the changes, Authorised Dealers are now permitted, without reference to the Central Bank of Barbados, and subject to certain conditions, to grant an advance (by way of loan, overdraft, indemnity or guarantee) for use in Barbados as follows:
It is anticipated that in a fully liberalised CSME environment, CSME residents will have the same facilities available to them as Barbadian residents. In an attempt to start levelling the playing field for Barbadian residents earning foreign exchange relative to CSME residents in similar situations who are presently able to retain their earnings in foreign currency, it was decided to allow Barbadians who earn foreign exchange to retain some proportion in foreign currency. While this does not exactly level the playing field, it is seen as the first manageable step in that direction. It is also hoped that this will encourage Barbadians holding foreign currency abroad (which is earning very little in the context of the current very low international interest rate regime) to repatriate funds to Barbados.
Accordingly, Authorised Dealers are now permitted:
Authorised Dealers may continue to open foreign currency accounts funded in the names of non-residents, including Barbadians and CSME nationals permanently residing outside Barbados, (or living in Barbados for less than three years), without limit on these accounts. Non-residents may continue to place the full amount of funds brought into Barbados on their foreign currency accounts. However, since CSME residents living in Barbados for three (3) years are treated as residents for exchange control purposes, they will be subject to the surrender requirement applicable to residents.
The Central Bank has recently strengthened its vetting procedures over applicant banks in response to international money laundering and criminal concerns. Subsidiaries of foreign banks have to provide written authorisation from the parent supervisory authority, and the activities of in-house corporate treasury operations must be consolidated into published group accounts.
According to the Central Bank, there measures are designed to enhance the business climate, improve efficiency and attract foreign investment, within the context of maintenance of the fixed exchange rate. "The Central Bank is mindful of the weak international environment and has therefore decided to implement only such measures as might facilitate the private sector, without significant risk of adverse impact on the foreign reserves," the institution stated.
The government intends to eventually abolish all exchange controls, although there is currently no timetable in place to do so.
Licence fees for financial institutions were increased by the 2008 budget, from January 1, 2009 as follows: Local – main branch: BDS250,000 per bank; Local – other branches: BDS20,000 per additional branch; Local – ATMs: BDS1,000 per ATM other than at branches; International banks BDS100,000 per bank.
On trust matters there is a sophisticated community of professional advisers in Barbados, and trust management has been a considerable activity in the jurisdiction for more then three decades, much of it conducted by the trust departments of banks. Individuals can provide trust services without registration, but companies offering trust services must be licensed by the Central Bank. Both foreign and Barbados-resident companies may obtain licenses. The International Trusts Act 1995 gave Barbados a modern, comprehensive, business-oriented trust regime which has proven particularly attractive to corporate users.
Licence fees for trust management companies were increased to BDS100,000 per company in the 2008 budget, with effect from January 1, 2009.
The Insurance sector meanwhile is governed by Barbados Exempt Insurance Act of 1983, and is overseen by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs (but will soon fall under the remit of the newly-formed Financial Services Commission). As of December 31, 2010, there were 166 active Exempt Insurance Companies and 76 active Qualified Insurance Companies in Barbados. Of the total number of active companies, approximately 51% originated from Canada and almost 40% were US-owned. US owners may take advantage of the provisions of the Barbados/US Double Tax Convention, which are not available to insurers located in the other main Caribbean jurisdictions. The Convention allows captives and other insurers in Barbados to write business in the US while avoiding the creation of a permanent establishment, and thus to escape much US taxation.
The benefits of operating an international insurance company in Barbados include fast and efficient incorporations and licensing, no restrictions on the type of insurance business written, 0% corporate tax for the first 15 years for EICs (and as low as 1.75% for QICs), no capital gains tax and exemption from withholding tax on dividends, interest, management fees and other income paid to non-residents. International insurance companies also enjoy exemption from taxes on transfers of securities and assets to non-residents, and exemption from exchange controls. The minimum capital requirement is USD125,000.
A Shipping Registry was established under the Shipping Act 1994 and the island has been a member of the International Maritime Organisation since 1969, subscribing to all the main maritime safety and environmental conventions. The Shipping Act provides for registration of all types of vessel, however owned, but the new Registry is particularly aimed at 'foreign-going' vessels, meaning those which sail to and from Caricom states (but not within Caricom) or outside Caricom altogether.
The Shipping Corporations Act 1996, which mirrors the provisions of the Companies Act 1982, provides a stand-alone basis for incorporation of a ship ownership or management company, whether the ships concerned are registered in Barbados or elsewhere. Shipping Corporations are non-residential and are exempt from taxes, and the Barbados/US Tax Convention provides particularly favourable opportunities to US shipping owners and operators, who can obtain domestic tax benefits by operating through a Barbados resident.
As a result of the 2009 Budget, The Shipping Corporations Act 1996 was amended to permit the incorporation of shipping corporations that are offshore (in terms of requisite authority) and that are domestic. The amendment also the restriction that a Director may not be a resident of Barbados.
Barbados was one of 20 registries placed on the United States Coast Guard QUALSHIP 21 programme list for 2011/12. The QUALSHIP 21 (Quality Shipping for the 21st Century) programme is a quality incentive programme to which only a small percentage of foreign-flag ships calling at US ports are admitted, based on the excellence of their port state control record. The USCG developed Qualship 21 to provide an incentive for well-run, quality ships and ship operators. Designated ships are recognized and rewarded by the USCG for their commitment to safety and quality by being subject to reduced port procedures.
Barbados Stock Exchange
Barbados is one of the handful of Caribbean states with its own stock exchange, created by an Act of Parliament in 1982. Although the original trading facility, which opened its doors in 1987, was reincorporated in 2001, the institution's status as a non-profit organisation privately owned by its members remains unchanged. The year 2001 also saw the traditional open outcry trading system replaced with an electronic trading and order-routing platform.
The Barbados Stock Exchange, although not large, has been moderately successful. In May 2012, the BSE had 22 local listings. There were declines across the board in 2010 in terms of indices and market capitalization. Index declines ranged from over 5% for the local index and 27.16% for the cross-listed index. The local and cross-listed market capitalization fell by 0.55% and 38.77%, respectively. 2011 was a much calmer year, the index ending December 30, 2011 at 3,267.18, down slightly from 3,347.25 on January 31, 2011.
Tax and Investment Incentives
In addition to offshore financial services, commercial activity and manufacturing - especially in high technology - have also been encouraged by Government with the granting of a number of tax and other investment incentives. Examples include a 10-year tax holiday, exemption from import duties, subsidised factory space available within 10 fully-serviced industrial parks, grants for worker training and free consulting services provided by Invest Barbados.
A one-stop service for investors is provided by Invest Barbados, a special agency established by the Government to facilitate investors and promote industrial development; it offers a wide range of investment incentives applying broadly to manufacturing industry. Some of these are as follows:
From 2007, dividends earned by resident companies, including IBCs, from holdings in foreign (non-resident) companies are exempt from tax, provided the Barbados company owns more than 10% in of the dividend-paying company and the holding is not merely a portfolio investment. Dividends paid to non-resident shareholders by Barbados companies are exempt from withholding taxes on the portion of income derived from foreign sources.
Barbados-resident companies apply withholding tax at 15% on dividend payments to non-residents and 12.5% to residents (on non-preference dividend payouts). Dividends paid out of foreign source income do not attract withholding tax.
Barbados has a number of tax treaties, but by far the most significant and beneficial of these is the US/Barbados Tax Treaty established in 1984 (alongside a Tax Information Sharing Agreement). The treaty creates opportunities for third country investors in US real estate, and is also attractive to US manufacturers. Many US investors are exempted from US accumulated earnings tax on Barbadian profits - a rare feature in US tax treaties. An additional protocol to the US treaty signed in 1991 lowered withholding rates but introduced new 'limitations on benefits' rules. In July 2004, then US Treasury Secretary John Snow and Barbadian Industry and International Business Minister, Dale Marshall signed the Second Protocol to the 1984 agreement. This sought to tighten the provisions of the treaty by updating the anti-treaty shopping provisions and preventing fiscal evasion.
Barbados inherited treaties with Switzerland, Sweden, Norway and Finland from the UK, but only the Swiss treaty survived - the other three were replaced with more modern treaties with low rates of withholding, tax-sparing provisions, and limitations on treaty-shopping. The Canadian treaty, dating from 1980, also includes limited tax-sparing provisions. The Finnish treaty has a 51% local ownership limitation of benefits rule, but IBCs and other offshore entities are specifically excluded from the rule, thus giving them access to treaty benefits.
In April, 2010, at the signing of the Barbados-Luxembourg Double Tax Agreement in London, Barbados Minister of International Business and International Transport, George Hutson, said that the continued expansion of the jurisdiction's tax treaty network is enhancing its reputation and attractiveness as a place to do business.
"I believe that coupled with our Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT), this Convention will certainly enhance our investment infrastructure and product offerings," Hutson said. "Investors in our countries will have access to more opportunities with the added assurance of the promotion and protection of their investments.”
"It is also important to note that this Convention makes abundantly clear the commitment of our two countries to the principles of transparency and tax information exchange that we have agreed upon," he added. "I am pleased, therefore, that we have been able to take the opportunity to bring the language of our Convention into conformity with [this].”
"I look forward to investors taking advantage of the opportunities in areas such as financial services, tourism, cultural services, research and development, and educational services," Hutson added. "I am also hopeful to see our people collaborating in joint ventures to provide new and innovative solutions and fill niches in the respective markets.”
Barbados currently has double tax agreements with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Finland, Norway, Malta, Sweden, Switzerland, Cuba, Venezuela, China, Mauritius, Botswana, Austria, the Netherlands, the Seychelles, Mexico, Luxembourg, and Spain.
Additionally, to promote and protect investments, Barbados has signed BITs with Cuba, Venezuela, China, Canada, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Mauritius, Ghana, Belgium, Italy, and Luxembourg. Furthermore, a list of priority countries has been devised for additional agreements, including Vietnam, the United States and Brazil.
Barbados has recently concluded new treaties with Italy, Spain, Vietnam, the Czech Republic, Panama, Portugal and Belgium, although these are not yet in force.
In February 2011, Prime Minister of Barbados, Freundel Stuart, announced that in order to fully implement Barbados’ national policy on transparency and demonstrate its commitment to the G-20-endorsed Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) standard on the exchange of information for tax purposes, the Government will amend the Barbados Income Tax Act to expand the scope of the tax information exchange provisions in Barbados’s existing double taxation treaties.
In April 2012, the Barbados government welcomed recognition from the OECD that its legislative and regulatory framework for the exchange of tax information meets international standards.
The endorsement of Barbados's framework, under a Phase One review, allows the territory to progress to the final, Phase Two evaluation under the OECD's peer review process, which will focus on Barbados's ability to exchange tax information in practice in 2013.
Welcoming the OECD announcement, George Hutson, Barbados Minister of International Business, said: “Barbados has worked hard to maintain its international standing as one of the world’s pre-eminent international business centers and long embraced the need for transparency and the appropriate exchange of tax information.”
“Barbados is pleased that those efforts continue to be recognized by the OECD previously, as the first independent Caribbean nation to be placed on the OECD’s original white list through to this most recent ruling. Barbados will not rest on its laurels and is committed to the continued refinement of its international business environment,” Hutson added.
Whilst Barbados offers a benign tax regime to offshore and international businesses, there is a marked disparity with the domestic regime, and the country faces some tough choices on the tax front in the years ahead. Not only must the country undergo reform as part of its commitments to the CSME (Caribbean Single Market and Economy), but the government also has to deal with the consequences of the 'commitment' letter which secured its removal from the OECD's 'harmful tax competition' black-list. In basic terms, this required the jurisdiction to converge the dual domestic/offshore tax system.
On the personal tax front, the system is not quite so benign. Taxable income is defined very broadly in Barbados, and includes everything from employment income to director's fees, taxable profits from a trade or business, interest, dividends, annual payments, royalties, social benefits, trust income, partnership income, income from the disposal of shares issued to employees and the benefit of loans at under-value. Residence for tax purposes is defined as presence in the country for more than 182 days in a calendar year (which is the tax year), and then applies to the whole year.
In 2011, the first BBD24,200 is taxed at 20%, the remainder being taxed at 35%.
Until 2002 chargeable income (after all allowances) was taxed at 25% on the first BBD24,200 and at 40% thereafter. The basic rate was reduced to 22.5% in 2003 and to 20% in 2004, and the top rate was reduced to 37.5% in income year 2005, and from 37.5% to 35% in income year 2006.
In 2006 the government introduced enhanced tax concessions for specially qualified individuals employed in the International Financial Services Sector, as follows:
Barbados levies an annual land tax at 0.6% on all unimproved land; the tax-free threshold on improved property was raised from BBD150,000 to BBD190,000 in the 2011 Budget. The following rates then apply: 0.10% on amounts between BBD190,000 and BBD500,000; 0.45% on amounts between BBD500,000 and BBD1.25m; and 0.75% on amounts in excess of BBD1.25m.
There are also property taxes and Stamp Duty is payable in a number of situations in Barbados, including transfers of real estate and shares (1%), leases (1%), and mortgages (BBD5 on the first $500, and $3 on each subsequent $500).
Property Transfer Tax is payable on the transfer by gift, sale or other method of any direct or indirect interest in land, at 2.5%. There are no capital gains, estate, inheritance or gift taxes although VAT was recently introduced, replacing the old sales taxes.
With regard to expats looking to live or work in Barbados, non-residents need work permits, although these are issued quite readily if it can be shown that there is no suitably-qualified Barbadian for the job. Non-residents may purchase real estate in Barbados with foreign currency that has been registered with the Central Bank.
Barbados has much to offer the investor, expat or manufacturer, with a sound offshore legislative environment and an array of tax incentives to encourage industry and commerce. Whilst the country faces some tough challenges ahead as it integrates into the Caribbean Single Market and to keep onside with the OECD, it is certainly not alone in this. These are concerns that are being felt right across the region, not just in Barbados, and the country is likely to remain a viable financial and business centre for some time to come.
It is widely believed that property in Barbados is owned by only the rich and famous. Although there are many wealthy owners, over the years the market has spread and diversified with prices ranging from just under USD200,000 to USD30m.
It is true that the west coast has some of the highest property prices in the world. The west coast of Barbados begins on the outskirts of Bridgetown (Capital of Barbados) in the south and extends northward to Harrisons in the parish of St Lucy at the northern tip of the island. There are a number of west coast luxury beachfront developments and luxury homes such as Portico, Coral Cove, The Sands, Schooner Bay, and Waterside, to name a few, on this stretch of coast with prices ranging from USD700,000 – USD30m.
The south coast begins at Carlisle Bay in Bridgetown and heads in an easterly direction towards East point on the Atlantic east coast. The south coast has seen tremendous growth within the last five years. There are a number of new developments under construction and the prices are lower than on the west coast, which suit the middle market and investment purchaser very well. Higher end developments include The Palm Beach Condominiums, which are spacious and offer very good value with quality finishes. These units are 2,200 sq ft and larger and start at about USD900,000. The Sapphire Beach Condominiums and White Sands Villas are two very good examples of new developments in the heart of the south coast. They both have direct beach access and start at USD700,000 for a one bedroom unit. Prices on the south coast range from USD250,000 – USD2m.
Although property prices have reduced by up to 15% since mid 2008, it is believed that Barbados has proven its strength, having competed with long-haul destinations such as Dubai over the last few years. Indeed, the firm suggests that the worldwide financial crisis has placed Barbados in a better position, as competing and alternative destinations have faltered quite dramatically.
Kieran Kelly of Chesterton Barbados, a joint venture with UK estate agents Chesterton Humberts, commented in September 2011 that: “Barbados is a prime destination in the world with an extremely strong and safe property market. Property prices range from USD200,000 to USD30 million, providing a price point for most buyers. The market is diverse including a choice of leading luxury golf residential estates such as Apes Hill, Royal Westmoreland or Sandy Lane. We also have a wonderful selection of super luxury beachfront homes and condominiums. Known as "Little England" and previously a British Colony, Barbados has appealed strongly to UK buyers for many years."
Andrew Hawkins, head of international sales at Chesterton Humberts added: “The Barbadian property market has proved relatively resilient despite the uncertainty in international financial markets and remains a firm favourite with British and other international buyers."