As Minister for Trade, Commerce, Industry, Sports, Culture and National Festivals in Antigua and Barbuda, Mr Chet Greene wears many hats. Seemingly undaunted by the challenge, he brings his personal experience in community service to the fore, prioritizing projects that will improve the lives of the people, whether it is through training in e-commerce techniques for cottage industries, building an ambitious cricket academy to help youths achieve excellence in the national sport, or turning the island nation into the art mecca of the Caribbean
How have your past experiences influenced your vision for your country?
Growing up I was very involved in sports – I captained my cricket community team, I was secretary general of the Antigua and Barbuda Football Association and I think all of that helped fashion me into who I am today. The Church was another major influence: as a youngster, it was my staple and provided me with my foundations. I studied at the University of Havana, Cuba and got a master’s in sports management. But I think that more than my academic qualifications, what makes me the right person for this job is my association with, and representation of, the people. This is a people-centred job, and my background working with and for people helped prepare me for it. As I look back at my early life in rural Antigua, I have fond memories and feel gratitude to all those who played a part in my upbringing. I now hope to continue this mission of service that I learned growing up in my village. My motto in life is a simple word: others.
What are the main goals that you would like to achieve throughout this term, broken down by sector?
This is a very extensive ministry, and the goals are many. In trade, I would like to make an impact on the small business sector, to help players make a significant contribution to national development and to provide them with the training that will help them do just that. We’re getting ready to roll out an incubator program as part of that project, and the dream of enabling small players to make critical contributions is fast becoming a reality. As for industry, I would like to incentivise the sector, to attract industries and to make Antigua and Barbuda more competitive both in new and old industries. This poses challenges in terms of the workforce, cost of energy and so on and the government is making a significant effort to provide services in IT and alternative energy to make sure that businesses are not only competitive but also viable. One of the challenges in small countries like ours is that in industry, we are up against giants, and in economies of scale this is really a disadvantage. But the fact is, we see our size as an advantage as we seek to attract new industries.
Can you give us an example of a new industry that you are promoting?
Next week I am hosting a group of investors who want to participate in developing the arts in Antigua. This is very interesting to the government, to present Antigua and Barbuda as the art mecca of the Caribbean. If we are able to cement that role, we will go a long way towards establishing that marquee value.
What about commerce? Do you have any new approaches?
The area of commerce has an ever-changing dynamic, and the quest of educating everyone involved in commerce is our single largest challenge because e-commerce is changing the face of traditional commerce. Part of our mission is helping local actors adapt to this new reality. If I have one overarching goal, it is getting local actors in the commercial sector to understand, appreciate and adjust to the realities of the new environment in which we exist. How do you get local players in Antigua and Barbuda to embrace the Alibabas and Amazons of this world or to create their own version of it? That is what we are working on.
When you juxtapose the English season with our great weather conditions, sports infrastructure becomes a good opportunity for investment
What projects are you pushing forward in the area of sports?
We are focused on building a strong platform of trained athletes supported by trained professionals in the areas of coaching, sports nutrition and sports medicine. And of course this has to be complemented with an upgraded sports infrastructure. The government has committed significant sums of the national budget to upgrading existing facilities. We’ve also restored Antigua and Barbuda as a cricket host nation. Prior to our return to office, this country had not been hosting any significant matches since 2009, when a game had to be abandoned due to bad pitch conditions. But between 2014 and 2017 we have hosted England, Australia and India. Cricket is not just a game for us: this country is known internationally for its long list of top cricket players and for giving the world the greatest batsmen that ever lived. For such a small country, we have a better per capita record than anyone else. And you also have to consider the economics of cricket. When we play England, the “Barmy Army” of fans come by the thousands to the Caribbean, representing significant economic activity – taxes, stadium admission fees, car rentals, accommodation and so on. So we have made significant investments to support the legacy of our own greats and their contribution to the national identity with ambitious projects like the Four Knights International Cricket Academy. For many years we promoted the island as a sea, sun and sand destination, but now we are working to get Antigua and Barbuda recognized as a major sports hub in the Caribbean because we recognize the power of sports.
You spoke earlier about developing the arts. What are some of your current projects as culture minister?
Antigua and Barbuda culture is experiencing a renaissance. We have a very rich culture that we need to preserve and project, and we see culture as a very important tool in the construction of our tourism package. We want people to come for the culture as well as the sun, sea, sand and sports. We want them to come for our music and our food, and so we are rebranding ourselves, raising our competitive vistas, and culture is an important element in that.
You said that in trade and industry, you are up against giants. The UK might be considered one of those giants. Do you also see opportunities for partnerships with the UK?
The UK and its post-Brexit policies are being closely watched as we fashion our own responses to these changes. The whole notion of tech transfer, knowledge transfer, joint projects, opportunities for entrepreneurs from both sides of the Atlantic and for investors from the UK within the Antigua and Barbuda space – these are all things that we are very much looking at and which we welcome. We see Brexit for the opportunities that it can bring our way, and seek to work with the British government and business community. And we seek opportunities for our own businesses – our fishing industry, our culture industry – in a post-Brexit market setting.
Culture in Antigua and Barbuda is experiencing a renaissance
There are a lot of countries competing for that kind of a relationship with the UK. How does Antigua and Barbuda plan to get a piece of that pie?
Our competitive edge has to remain sharper; our engagement with British policymakers has to be greater, and through our high commissioner in London we already have that level of interaction. Every single Antigua diplomat in every single jurisdiction must be on the lookout for those opportunities. And we here in Antigua and Barbuda must sift through the maze to find those opportunities. Yes, it’s going to be very competitive as every country tries to engage in bilateral relations, but there will also be some multilateral work through Caricom. Ultimately, however, I think it’s going to be down to those who have clarity of vision, and a strong sense of purpose and direction.
What projects and opportunities can you offer potential investors?
The opportunities are quite varied. Our Citizenship by Investment Programme (CIP) comes to mind immediately as an excellent option for high net worth individuals looking to invest in jurisdictions outside the UK. Depending on the interests of the potential investor, we could talk about tourism developments – hotels, condominiums, time-shares – or sports infrastructure. In the latter instance, when you juxtapose the English season with our own great weather conditions 365 days a year, sports infrastructure becomes a good opportunity for investment. This is also a yachting mecca in the Caribbean, a high-end getaway representing interesting investment opportunities.
What are some of the key festivals that Antigua and Barbuda has to offer international visitors?
Our primary festival is the summer carnival, which this year turns 60. The carnival is the epicenter of our cultural existence, bringing together our music, our food, our dance, our spirits – alcoholic ones included! It embodies the spirit of Antigua and Barbuda. We also have our independence celebrations, as we became a sovereign country on November 1, 1981. On December 9 we also observe the birth of Sir Vere Cornwall Bird Sr., our first prime minister and a national hero. We also have a literary festival that is yet to be formalised, a festival of choirs and a national food fair. We have a mango festival and a seafood festival. Now we need to work harder on promoting them. Once we have built a cultural platform, there will be great economic value in these festivals as well. In order to make our tourism industry more competitive, culture is essential.
We are a melting pot of cultures
What are some of the influences that have shaped the culture of Antigua and Barbuda?
Ours is a very colorful culture, and we have communities of Jamaican, Chinese, Arab and Guyanese origin living here, to name just a few. We are a melting pot of cultures and we are all brothers and sisters. Sir Vere Cornwall Bird was a great advocate of racial integration and with it, equality, and successive administrations have embraced Caribbean togetherness. We want to recognize the cultural diversity of all the nations that have settled in Antigua and Barbuda, but also to celebrate our oneness and the need to work together for the national good and for the good of all our people.
Carnival is a major event in many parts of the world, including the nearby Trinidad & Tobago, which has promoted it heavily. What is unique about yours?
We call it the Caribbean’s number one summer festival. We were the first to start a carnival at this time of the year, and it lasts longer, 11 days. It preserves many traditions while adapting to the dynamics of change. It is a national celebration yet we continue to preach safety, promoting security for our guests. I have travelled the entire world and I think the people here are particularly friendly in a very genuine way, without expecting anything in return. And our carnival is a good way to showcase that attitude, as we grow our carnival to be more competitive and become a global brand. The carnival showcases our hospitality, our food, our music, our dancing – all aspects of our culture. People can come enjoy the carnival in a safe, clean environment, with the best beaches and friendliest people in the world.
Can you define in one word what Antigua and Barbuda means to you as minister of culture?