LIAT negotiations between Barbados and Antigua collapse

LIAT negotiations between Barbados and Antigua and Barbuda have broken down.

Barbados TODAY investigations have revealed that talks between the teams from Antigua and Barbuda and Barbados, which took place last Monday at the Hilton Hotel lasted only a few hours before stalling.

The visiting team subsequently left the island without a deal being reached.

Barbados’ negotiation team was led by Attorney General Dale Marshall and also included Minister of Tourism Kerrie Symmonds and Director of Finance and Economic Affairs Ian Carrington.

While efforts to reach Marshall proved unsuccessful, according to reports, the home team was not impressed with what Antigua and Barbuda brought to the negotiating table.

A source out of Antigua and Barbuda told Barbados TODAY it did not appear a deal would be struck anytime soon.

“The outcome so far does not reflect that the two sides are anywhere close to Barbados selling even a portion of its sales. It does not look probable for the near future,” the source added.

The source revealed that among the sticking points to Barbados selling its 49.4 per cent majority stake in LIAT was Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s insistence that Antigua and Barbuda would have to take up Barbados’ almost $100 million loan commitments.

That debt is due mainly to a loan from the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) which was used to purchase three LIAT aircraft.

Additionally, the well-placed source said Barbados’ negotiators had also asked for a guarantee from St John’s that LIAT staff in Brigetown would not be sacrificed at the expense of staff from Antigua and Barbuda.

The source pointed out that Barbados was not fearful of LIAT pulling any of its flights from the island, as Barbados accounted for five of the six profitable routes travelled by the cash-strapped regional airline.

“Any move to pull LIAT flights out of Barbados would lead to an immediate collapse of the airline,” the source maintained.

LIAT serves 15 Caribbean destinations with almost 500 flights.

The breakdown in talks has come just over a month after Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda Gaston Browne announced that Barbados had agreed to sell almost all of its shares.

The sale would make Antigua and Barbuda, which currently has a 34 per cent ownership in LIAT, the majority owner.

Following Browne’s declaration and after weeks of speculation, Mottley revealed Government’s plans to sell its shares.

In explaining her reasons for offering the shares for sale, the Prime Minister maintained that Barbados simply was not in a financial position to support LIAT due to the country’s current economic position and as a result had made a decision to “take a step back”.

While admitting the regional airline was in need of an overhaul, the Prime Minister promised that Barbados would continue to support intra-regional travel.

“The current model which LIAT has within the 1974 limited is not an attractive model and what is needed is significant restructuring; indeed a new model of governance, a new financial model and a new operational model in order for it to be able to extract greater benefits and provide the services which it does,” Mottley said at the time.