Ideally placed to do business
THE NEWLY-ELECTED GOVERNMENT IS AS COMMITTED TO EXPLOITING THE BENEFITS OF THE BAHAMAS' PROXIMITY TO THE U.S. AS ITS PREDECESSOR-AND TO PROMOTING THE COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGES THAT HAVE GIVEN THEM THE EDGE AND MADE THEM WEALTHY

PORTS OF CALL The Bahamas is one of the most visited destinations for cruise ships in the world and receives 30 percent of all visitors to the Caribbean

THE BAHAMAS has become the most prosperous nation in the Caribbean region thanks largely to an ideal geographical location that places it right on America’s doorstep. An archipelago of 700 islands, it extends into the Atlantic Ocean from just 50 miles off the east coast of Florida. This convenient positioning–plus its status as a premier tax haven–has made it a top attraction in two of the biggest global industries, tourism and international financial services.

With a parliamentary democracy that goes back two-and-a-half centuries, The Bahamas has continued to enjoy political and social stability since gaining its independence from Britain. A member of the British Commonwealth, it celebrates its 30th anniversary as a sovereign state on July 10 next year.
At the end of May it elected a new government. The Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) was swept into power by a landslide election victory, ending a decade of government by the Free National Movement (FNM) headed by Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham.

New Premier Perry Christie, a charismatic, veteran politician, and former world-class athlete, has declared himself fully committed to free enterprise and promised to cut the red tape that stifles investment. He has also pledged to maintain the islands’ tax neutral environment, with no introduction of income, capital gains or inheritance taxes.
The Bahamas’ English-speaking population of 300,000 enjoys an average per capita income of more than $15,000. Most Bahamians live on the major islands of New Providence, location of the capital, Nassau, and Grand Bahama, which boasts Freeport, the largest free trade zone in the western hemisphere. Development of the Family Islands–the other islands in the archipelago–is in progress.
The Bahamas is one of the largest markets for American products in the Caribbean region, importing goods worth $710 million annually.

The U.S. also accounts for much of the income that The Bahamas receives from tourism, its number one industry. Tourism dominates the economy, contributing 60 percent to the nation’s $4.5 billion gross domestic product (GDP). Some 3.6 million visitors bring in an estimated $1.6 billion annually–and 90 percent of those visitors are from North America. They provide around 70 percent of government revenue.
Proximity to the eastern United States and Canada has made The Bahamas the 8th most popular vacation destination for American tourists. It is also one of the world’s most visited destinations for cruise ships, receiving some 30 percent of all cruise visitors to the Caribbean.
Its tourism industry remains the fastest growing in the region and determined efforts have been made to attract international investors to develop and diversify it further. They have been encouraged by improvements made in the islands’ infrastructure in recent years, including upgrading of airports, major roadways and telecommunications services.

The international financial services sector is second only to tourism in its importance to the economy. The Bahamas is one of the most developed financial centers in the world, with a recently updated regulatory infrastructure. More than 380 banks and trusts have a presence there.
Like the FNM before it, the new PLP administration is committed to increasing the attraction of the country as a location for international services. It has pledged to maintain the islands’ competitive advantages and reposition the industry to better meet the needs of international financial markets.
Economic growth in The Bahamas has averaged around four percent since 1996. Inevitably, the events of September 11 delivered a serious blow to the economy, but Julian Francis, Governor of the Central Bank of The Bahamas, anticipates growth resuming around the fourth quarter of this year, if not before.
"The US recession and September 11 put a short term brake on activity, but when the US economy turns around, our economy will accelerate. The economy is growing today, at a slow rate, but it is growing," he says.
A recent study by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, judged The Bahamas one of the freest economies in the world.

Basing its findings on statistics from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), it ranks the islands 17th out of 161 nations in its 2002 Index of Economic Freedom.
"The Bahamas is a very small micro economy which by its very nature is an open economy," says Mr. Francis. "We rely very heavily on our commercial relationships with the United States, Canada, Latin America, Europe and Asia, in that order more or less."
The FNM government provisionally signed on to the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), which aims to remove trade barriers and create a multi-million dollar trading bloc of 34 nations in the western hemisphere by December 31, 2005.

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