Remarks by Honourable Smith at the Asia Pacific Trade Mission Press Briefing

Opening Remarks

By Hon. Lorna Smith, OBE

Deputy Premier and Minister for Financial Services, Labour and Trade

Asia Pacific Trade Mission Press Briefing

12 June, 2024

Good Afternoon,

Before I open the floor up to questions, I want to say a few words about the Asia Pacific mission we have just completed, along with our eleven private sector sponsors, our regulators and of course friends and colleagues based in the region. I want to especially thank our private sector who funded themselves to participate in the Mission and sponsored the events.

As you know, financial services is the major source of government revenues and Asia represents our most substantial client base for using BVI structures to facilitate outbound and inbound investments and we were pleased to hear many people tell us that the BVI is still synonymous with this work. Almost 60% of our business is based in the region, with more than 40% alone in China.

It has been over four years since a government-led delegation visited the area – a serious gap in a region which values strong personal relationships above all.

I was therefore pleased to be able to spend significant time not only with the business sector, but also with the regulators in Hong Kong and Singapore, together with political representatives in both of those cities, as well as those in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.

It is good to see that the visit has received positive coverage in our local media, and that remarks from the likes of Carson Wen of the Bank of Asia, David Chong of Portcullis Group, Tiger Zhang, Director of ICS Corporate Services, and Vicki Lord, Managing

Partner of Harneys Shanghai, have been widely reported. They, and others that we met, all lauded the benefits of doing business with the BVI. In fact, Leon Mao, Head of Advisory Services and Managing Director for North Asia at Vistra called the BVI a super connector in the Asia region, highlighting our integral role in linking diverse markets. Indeed, all those we spoke to saw a dynamic future for the BVI in the region both for existing products and services and in new areas such as digital asset management and ESG finance which will grow as our offerings evolve. All of these individuals are key influencers and their views count in the region so it was very welcome to see their commendation.

In addition to the private sector, I was particularly pleased with the reception we received from the senior Government officials we met in all the cities.

In Beijing, these included officials from China’s Ministry of Commerce for Financial Services and Trade, the Department of Foreign Trade and the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. In Shanghai we met the Shanghai Council for International Trade and in Hong Kong the Deputy Financial Secretary. In Singapore, we met officials from the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Of particular importance were the meetings the BVI Financial Services Commission was able to have with the Monetary Authorities in Hong Kong and Singapore.

I am delighted to say that those we met share our belief that the BVI’s relationships in Asia can only get stronger and they were keen to underscore the importance of trade between us.

In fact, in Beijing, officials highlighted the increase in industrial trade between BVI registered companies and China from 9.17 million dollars in 2020 to 70 million dollars in 2023. In fact, we were already at almost 31 million dollars within the first 4 months of 2024. So, as you can see, the growth is significant and increasing year on year.

But I also used the visit see how the strength of our relationship could be utilized to bring benefits to the BVI that can be more apparent, and I am happy to report that the authorities in all the cities we visited were keen to help make a difference.

Shenzhen is the city where we perhaps have the most extensive relationship. It is the technological and industrial beating heart of China and this year we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Memorandum of Understanding we signed with Shenzhen in 2014. Indeed, that agreement was signed following a visit by a Shenzhen delegation to the BVI, emphasizing once again the importance which the region places on face-to-face contact.

Our relationship with Shenzen has been a tremendous success. There are 77 trading BVI companies based in Shenzhen representing a combined value of 3 billion dollars in investments. However, during our discussions with the city’s officials, it was clear that we can make much more of the agreement between us. Moving forward, therefore this will be a focus for our relationship.

The MoU outlines a range of technical assistance which the City of Shenzhen is willing to provide the BVI with. It is our intention to broaden the scope of the cooperation under the MoU to include university scholarships and student exchange provisions for BVI students to study in Shenzhen, technical assistance to the BVI in the areas of waste disposal management and technology and technical assistance to the BVI around climate resilience and adaptation.

I am delighted to say that the authorities in Shenzhen have already agreed to fund a scholarship for an individual from the BVI to study in Shenzhen, with applications already being sought through the BVI Hong Kong office for the 2024/2025 academic year. Shenzhen is also keen to support our FinTech offering. We will therefore soon commence planning for a road show in early 2025 focusing on this area to take place in Shenzhen. As with the just completed mission, this will be a collaboration between the Government, the Financial Services Commission and largely sponsored by the private sector.

I am pleased to say that Shenzhen was not alone in offering its support to enable us to continue to grow and develop our economy. 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, while both the Hong Kong and Singapore Monetary Authorities have offered training opportunities to staff from the Financial Services Commission.

The practical opportunities I have just mentioned are just the start. BVI Financial services are well known, and its incorporation structures are highly regarded in Asia Pacific. Thanks to this reputation we can deepen relationships with Governments across the region to benefit business and increase capacity across the whole of the BVI economy, including beyond financial services. For example, the services offered by the National Arbitration Centre were of major interest and there is significant potential for the Centre to agree MoUs with its equivalents in Asia Pacific to substantially increase business in this important area. In addition, we learnt with interest how Shenzhen has established itself as a Special Economic Zone and we will look at lessons from that city that we can apply to accelerate our own economic development.

As Minister, the ability to increase income for the government, to provide opportunities for our young people and to improve the business potential of our financial services practitioners were the primary goals of the Mission and, I believe we are on the path to achieving these.

Longer term, a welcome and robust partnership with these important global cities will stand us in very good stead, facilitating an ability to upskill and innovate across several sectors and enabling our businesses across the country to better contribute to a more sustainable economy. We could not ask for more from such relationships and we know that this can only be a good thing for the BVI.

I am grateful to our sponsors and all those from the private sector who enabled this critical Mission to take place and will now ask Elise to add some colour before opening the floor for questions.

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