By Guy Canessa
THE finance centre 'roadshow' started rolling at 2pm on Sunday 25 April. The six-hour coach journey from the frontier to the Algarve was broken up by a pitstop at Lepe, somewhat unfairly the butt of many a joke in Spain. However, the gruelling itinerary for the next few days would be no laughing matter as it involved getting up well before the crack of dawn (4:30 am on one occasion) and travelling for several hours ahead of an all-day exhibition followed by an evening reception.
Most participants travelled on the coach provided by the DTI but some preferred to make their own way there, whilst others were already based in Portugal.
The roadshow had been widely advertised under the slogan 'Gibraltar comes to Portugal' with full-page advertisements appearing in Anglo-Portuguese News on 22 April, the Algarve Resident on 23 April and The Weekly News on 24 April. In addition, invitations had been sent to 250 members of the British Chamber of Commerce in Lisbon.
Upon arrival at Hotel Vila Vita Parc in Armacao de Pera, central Algarve, the Gibraltar contingent was joined by Neil Wilkinson, Valmet's representative in the Algarve, and Richard Whittaker of Shepherds who had flown over from the UK to assist Savignons in marketing traded endowment policies (TEPs).
On the following morning, at the commencement of the first day's exhibition, numbers were further swelled by Portugal-based staff: Paulo Alves and Miguel Cardiga from BDO in Lisbon, and Nigel Anteney-Hoare, Gill Graham, Gabriel Moreira and Joaquim Fava from Sovereign Trust's large Portuguese offices (ten staff in Lagoa alone).
One discovery made by the Gibraltar group was that Portuguese names are too long to fit on a business card, so they tend to abbreviate them, as in the case of Joaquim Fava who's full name is 'Joaquim Jose Viegas de Sousa Fava', and the Honorary British Consul in the Algarve who attended the third day's reception, who's full name is 'Jose Manuel Teixeira Gomes Pearce de Azevedo'.
Despite the long-established business links with Portugal, there is still a distinct lack of awareness about Gibraltar in some quarters: "Is Gibraltar part of Spain?" ventured Maria Gruber, one of the managers at the Vila Vita Parc. Gibraltar, however, is not alone in having a problem with its identity. One Portuguese accountant explained the difficulties encountered in attracting business from the United States, as most US companies head straight for Madrid. "They think Portugal is part of Spain," he lamented.
Misconceptions about Gibraltar's status were soon put right by the many brochures distributed. In addition to the new finance centre brochure, the DTI team placed many Gibraltar Tourist Board brochures as the potential for the further development of tourism to the Rock soon became evident. "There isn't an awful lot to do around here," said Paul Buick, Managing Director of an English-language radio station in the Algarve. "Every five or six weeks I drive to Gibraltar to shop at Safeway and for a change generally. I know Ernest Francis so I always give his hotel a plug on the air."
The first day's event concluded with a reception at which the Minister for Trade and Industry, Peter Montegriffo, made a presentation. "Gibraltar understands the expat culture," he told guests, highlighting the advantages of investing in Gibraltar: confidence and confidentiality, the only common law jurisdiction in continental Europe, regulation to EU and UK standards, and the very favourable light the Edwards report had cast on the Rock's finance centre.
Day Two went smoothly enough despite getting trapped in the clogged traffic lanes entering Lisbon and the difficulty the coach had negotiating the Portuguese capital's narrow streets lined with illegally-parked cars. The two Peters (Isola and Thompson), who had travelled up by car, met up with the group upon arrival at the hotel lobby.
In Lisbon, the Minister and Finance Centre Director Anthony Fisher attended a series of back-to-back meetings, the first and third of which had been arranged by Francis Napoli of Prime Trust. First, a meeting at Banco Efisa with Chairman & CEO Abdool Magid A Karim Vakil and lawyer M Karim Vakil, followed by a short ride to the British Embassy to meet Ambassador Roger Westbrook and hold discussions with First Secretary (Commercial) Phil Sinkinson. Then it was off to meet Juan Simon, Director, Equity Sales, at Central Investimentos-Sociedade Corretora SA, followed by a fourth meeting, this time with investment consultants Tony Pruim and David Elkan which had been arranged via the British Chamber of Commerce in Lisbon.
In his second presentation, Peter Montegriffo reiterated Gibraltar's private client culture. "We live in the private-client belt; the Florida of Europe," he said, making the point that EU access differentiates Gibraltar from other offshore centres. "Nowhere in the EU will you find a centre that offers more fiscal advantages," he declared, pointing out that there are no capital taxes in Gibraltar and no VAT. He again stressed Gibraltar's "very sound professional infrastructure and cost-efficiency" and concluded by saying: "There is a lot that Gibraltar can do for Portugal and that Portugal can do for Gibraltar."
The third day's event was held at Hotel Quinta do Lago in eastern Algarve. This was by far the best attended of the three events, largely due to the hotel's prime location in the so-called 'golden triangle', demarcated by Almancil, Val do Lobo and Quinta do Lago, where there is a high concentration of affluent expats. Increasing numbers of foreigners are moving to the Algarve, most recently the Irish - the exclusive Quinta do Lago complex was purchased last year by the O'Brien family. Overall responsibility for running the resort still falls to Domingos da Silva of Planal SA. In a meeting with Gib's Minister for Trade and Industry, he revealed how extensive the Algarve's business ties with Gibraltar already are. Fiona Swainston, a UK solicitor based in Almancil, said that she too works closely with a Gibraltar law firm, confirming the links that already exist and the scope for further business ties.
In his third and final presentation, Peter Montegriffo drove home the point that Gibraltar has the best tax opportunities available in the EU. "From 1967, companies have been given a 25-year tax-exempt certificate," he affirmed, and went on to say that Gibraltar has a long tradition of private-client work, as witnessed by the presence of 26 banks. "Gibraltar provides the type of service you would normally find in northern Europe," said the Minister, "discreetly, competently and on a cost-effective basis". "Gibraltar and the Algarve are natural partners," he concluded.
All in all, the visit served as a very useful fact-finding mission as well as enabling the group to build on existing client contacts and explore new business opportunities. In the words of the Minister for Trade and Industry: "This is a first foray for Gibraltar into Portugal. We hope greater contact can be established through further visits in the future."
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