THINK PIECE

Prepared for online publication at www.storiesfordevelopment/research

By Claudette Russell

December 1, 2018

FOREIGN LAND OWNERSHIP IN SMALL ISLAND NATIONS OF THE CARIBBEAN

Executive Summary

Across the Caribbean, retaining local control over land has been a challenge since countries in the region started gaining their independence in the 19th century. This issue has been brought to the forefront as modern-day globalization results in increased flows of people and money across waterways and borders, making foreign land ownership more common. In the small island nations of the Caribbean where space is limited, the issue of ownership is more acute. Indeed, foreign ownership of land has become a pressing public policy issue with the potential to undermine the sovereignty of countries in the region.

Much of the research on foreign land ownership espouses the potential for capital formation, labour market growth, and growth in national incomes. Certainly, in a region characterized by dependency on tourism and sluggish growth, foreign land ownership has the potential to develop emerging markets by generating foreign investments and private sector growth.  This short think piece does not dispute the contribution that foreign land ownership can make to national economies. Rather, it explores the issue of foreign ownership from the perspective of citizens.

The paper argues that Caribbean governments have been slow or negligent in managing their scarce land resources, and that they need a more transparent approach to land management that finds balance between the demands of powerful and wealthy foreign investors and the needs of citizens to ensure foreign land ownership doesn’t result in post-colonial relationships. It presents a case for more restrictions on foreign land ownership to ensure that future generations are not crowded out from owning a piece of their homeland.

One of the main drivers of foreign ownership is the demand for land from investors and developers in the tourism industry. With the globalization of property markets, perhaps island governments need to put in place measures to diversify their economies so they are less reliant on tourism. The very sovereignty of their countries depends on it.  Download the full document. 

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