This was revealed by Chairman of the Trinidad Saudi Chamber of Commerce (TSCC), Umar Khan, during a recent interview with Business Day about Al Majed’s tour of real estate investment opportunities in Trinidad, St Vincent and Antigua.
Khan said the sheik, who was in Trinidad from March 21 to 26, met with the owner of a “massive estate in Las Cuevas, (who) is open to either selling the land or to being a co-developer of the proposed beach resort.” Khan said the project was brought to the attention of the sheik by InvesTT, which was key in arranging the site visit and presentations.
The 500-acre estate, Khan said, has beachfront access to Las Cuevas Bay, one of the few Blue Flag beaches in the Caribbean.
According to the Environmental Defence website, Blue Flag is a world-renowned eco-certification for beaches and marinas. A Blue Flag indicates that the beach or marina is clean and accessible; has great water quality; meets high safety standards; and is working hard to protect local shorelines and ecosystems.
Khan said the fact that the estate has Blue Flag beach front made it that much more attractive to Al Majed, who is Chairman of the Saudi Arabia headquartered Tanmiyat Investment Group (TIG).
Business Day understands Las Cuevas Properties is the company managing development of the estate.
According to the “Investment Opportunities” section of InvesTT’s website, “The Las Cuevas estate...is indeed a prime mode for the development of a high value, high quality resort.
This estate is currently privately owned by a citizen of TT. Available space for sale will include beach front property.” InvesTT gave the estate’s location as 18 km north east or a 45-minute drive from Port-of-Spain.
“The site is bounded by the North Coast road to the south and framed by the Las Cuevas Bay on the north. To the east and west of the site are rain forest foot hills of the Northern Range... It is envisioned that approximately 66 percent of the property will be developed to include roads, buildings paved areas, gardens and landscaped areas. The remaining 34 percent is expected to be retained as natural forest,” InvesTT stated on its website.
Al Majed’s March 2017 Caribbean site visits and meetings with senior government officials were arranged by the TSCC, in conjunction with the relevant local authorities.
While in Trinidad, the TIG chairman met with Trade and Industry Minister, Paula Gopee- Scoon, the ministry’s Acti ng Permanent Secretary (PS), Frances Seignoret, and several senior ministry officials.
Al Majed also met with senior officials at InvesTT, Campus Principal of The UWI St Augustine, Professor Brian Copeland, Campus Registrar Richard Saunders and with the Director of The UWI’s Office of Institutional Advancement and Internationalisation.
In addition, the sheikh met with Chairman of the Urban Development Corporation of Trinidad and Tobago (UDeCOTT), Noel Garcia and senior members of Garcia’s team.
Khan said, “They presented several projects to (Al Majed), including the San Fernando Waterfront Project and Invaders Bay in Port-of-Spain. They said these projects are at various stages of development, so it didn’t seem like things were completely ready but these were presented as investment opportunities.” Al Majed toured the Caribbean in late September to early October 2015, when he had initi al discussions about possible developments in Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada and in St Vincent and the Grenadines.
During his meeting with InvesTT a little over 18 months ago, arrangements were made to send the particulars of specific investment options together with information on the economy, history of political stability, and so on.
Khan said the change in government around the same time meant a change in the board of InvesTT, which caused a delay in the completion and approval of the documents.
He told Business Day that at their March 24, 2017 meeting, Gopee- Scoon “indicated that InvesTT is now fully up and ready with its new board and team. She also indicated that a lot of the documents that were promised were almost ready.
Those documents also included data on possible projects that the sheikh requested so that he could get a proper understanding of what opportunities are available in TT.” On March 22, Al Majed was the guest of honour at two events: the TSCC’s Membership Convention at Paria Suites Hotel and Convention Centre, La Romaine and immediately afterward, at the ribbon-cutting and ceremonial opening of the TSCC’s office, Southern Main Road, La Romaine. San Fernando Mayor Junia Regrello and former mayor and current Minister of Rural Development and Local Government Kazim Hosein cut the ceremonial ribbon in the presence of the TSCC members, other government officials and community members.
The TSCC has maintained an office in St Augustine since 2012, which is strictly for administrative purposes. The La Romaine office, formally opened on April 10, is where the TSCC can “interface with the public and promote its activities,” Khan explained.
Khan said the convention “looked at the importance of Trinidad- Saudi relations and examined opportunities for increasing trade and foreign direct investment.
We also looked at the Caribbean region as well as the Gulf region; there are lots of opportunities for collaboration.” Speakers at the convention included former Acting Director of the Institute of International Relations at The UWI, Professor Anthony Peter Gonzales and Seignoret, who spoke on behalf of Minister Gopee-Scoon.
Gonzales pointed out that while relations between Latin American countries and the Gulf States – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, Bahrain, and Kuwait – “have grown in the last few years to an unprecedented level,” the Caribbean has continued to rely on traditional sources of income. These six states form the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
He noted that, “(Despite) the decline of the world oil price and the effect of the 2008 financial crisis, the Gulf States sti ll possess significant holdings, and have been perceived to be part of the wider shift of economic leverage from west to east and from the market to the state in the allocation of capital.
The GCC Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWFs) are among the largest in the world with an appetite for direct investments, including infrastructure investments.” “TT and the Caribbean can no longer ignore this... Like Latin America, they need to enlarge and diversify their pool of foreign direct investment (FDI) in order to reduce fluctuations. All of this is in sync with the desire of the Gulf States to maximise investment returns.
Their SWFs have enhanced their traditional investment approaches by increasing direct investments, increasing their exposure to selective emerging markets and diversifying their portfolio across industries.” Gonzales also pointed out that Latin America and the Gulf States “rely on each other for essential products, such as food and agricultural produce from Latin America and hydrocarbons and fertiliser” from the six States.
He said this process, supported by governments in both regions, has contributed to the diversification of trade links between Latin America and the Gulf States.
While trade with Brazil, “accounts for the majority of trade between Latin America and the GCC,” Gonzales argued that, “CARICOM countries such as Guyana, Surinam and Belize along with other Latin American countries could offer opportunities for diversification.” Meanwhile Seignoret applauded the TSCC for “its commitment to strengthening the commercial relationship between the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, from which local counterparts can become more dynamic and innovative, take new risks in seeking out new markets and ultimately, build competitiveness and become net earners of foreign exchange.” She added, “The continued people to- people contact between both countries will augur well for building awareness of the many possibilities which exist in the sphere of trade and investment.” The Acting PS noted that Saudi Arabia’s exports to TT are primarily machinery, plastics, citrus peel, edible fruits and nuts while our exports include “articles of plastic, essential oils and cosmetics.” Other speakers at the event included the Mayor Regrello, Dr Aleem Mohammed, CEO of SM Jaleel, and Ricky Amar.
On March 20, 2017, Al Majed flew to Antigua where he accepted an invitation to meet with Prime Minister (PM), Gaston Browne.
Khan told Business Day the two “talked about one of the top investment projects going on right now in Antigua. One of our Trinidad-based TSCC members is building a condo-style luxury hotel - The Labahia Hotel Resort and Condominiums (Labahia). It’s going to be approximately 200 rooms with a conference facility.” Khan said that the revised estimated project cost is between US $70 million and $100 million however an article on the Caribbean Journal website, “New Resort Project Launches in Antigua”, put the figure at $52 million. Set in the Friars Hill area of Antigua, Caribbean Journal reported that Labahia “is being developed by Adams Investment Management and the government of Antigua and Barbuda.” “It is the brainchild of TT-based developers Imtiyaz Adam and Farman Ramjohn, and will include 120 one and two-bedroom, full-furnished luxury condominiums and several penthouse suites. The resort project will include a 24,000-square-foot conference facility, restaurants, a gym, tennis courts, shops and an Olympic swimming pool,” the website stated.
Asked about Al Majed’s potential role in the project, Khan said the sheikh “visited the construction site and held talks with Imtiyaz Adam and immediately got on board; he wanted to see how he could form a business relationship (with the existing project owners).” The TIG chairman also met that day with Antigua’s Minister of Tourism, Economic Development Investment and Energy, Asot Michael.
From Antigua, Al Majed flew to St Vincent, a visit arranged by the TSCC “in close collaboration with PM of St Vincent, Dr Ralph Gonsalves. The Saudi delegation was received by the Deputy PM and Minister of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Regional Integration, Sir Louis Hilton Straker,” Khan said.
The delegation also met with St Vincent’s Minister of Economic Planning, Sustainable Development, Industry, Information and Labour, Camillo Gonsalves and with Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries and Rural Transformation, Saboto Caesar. Al Majed and company looked at several sites for real estate development projects that day but the one they settled on for further negotiation was the now decommissioned airport, located about eight minutes’ drive from the capital, Kingstown.
The ET Joshua Airport, located in Arnos Vale, was decommissioned after the Argyle International Airport opened on February 14, 2017.
“It’s in a good location, with ocean front, with a lot of land for new development. The sheikh is interested in the feasibility of doing a development project at the old airport. His style is very modern.
He’s interested in doing a complete master plan for the area, which would feature a mixed-use development with lots of landscaping,” Khan told Business Day. Asked about time lines to sign contracts for this development, he said this “would be determined by how fast we continue to move because at the first meeting, everything went well.” “Now correspondence has to be sent back and forth. So it depends on how fast communication goes.
These projects could be short-term, they could be medium-term, but it is going to be the entire site. It could take four to five years very easily,” Khan said.
At the end of Al Majed’s seven-day trip, “a framework for negotiating TIG’s business interests in the Caribbean was agreed to,” Khan shared, “because he had identified the projects and some of the Caribbean business expertise that he will rely on to pursue these negotiations since he’s not living here.” Khan told Business Day that a lot of work has to be done to finalise the various investment opportunities which Al Majed chose to purse.