As two major pieces of legislation relating to trade successfully passed through the House of Assembly, Opposition Leader Marlon Penn has called for the enactment of ‘fair trade’ legislation to protect the small businesses.
The two bills that passed are the VI Trade Commission Act and the Consumer Protection Act but Penn said a fair trade law is needed to provide ‘a level playing field’.
“We in the BVI have a small economy … so we have to be very careful how we allow big businesses to come into our territory, and understand the implication of those businesses operating within our economic environment,” the Opposition Leader said while speaking in the House recently.
“We already have the advent of the Amazons of the world and what Amazon has done in terms of its impact of small businesses functioning within an environment. While we don’t want to restrict persons who have the right of choice, we also have to look at how those entities impact the businesses on the ground that drives the economy in the territory,” he explained.
Penn further said the issue also extends to local wholesalers competing with retailers they trade with.
“That cannot lend itself for fair competition. We need a legislative framework to guard against that and to ensure that there is no unfair competitive advantage to persons who are trying to survive in this market. We also have to educate our public on how their consumer behaviour sometimes have an adverse effect on the overall global picture and our local economic picture and how we could create some dire situations for businesses infrastructure and all the things that trickle down from economic activities,” he reasoned.
The opposition legislator said there should also be educational campaigns to assist local businesses ‘step up their game’ to be innovative and provide more variety that customers want.
Penn indicated that fair trade legislation would serve as a needed supplement to VI Trade Commission Act and the Consumer Protection Act, both of which now await assent from the governor to become law.
They were created to provide protection for both the consumers and the business entities in the territory. According to Premier Andrew Fahie, the Consumer Protection Act is “about fairness”.
He said the legislation would mandate that businesses display prices on all goods without any hidden prices, among other things.
“The customer should not be forced to pay for goods or the return of goods that they did not order,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Premier said the second legislation — the VI Trade Commission — will have the power to receive complaints on possible breaches of the Act.
The Trade Commission, if satisfied that a complaint has merit, will investigate the matter and provide the necessary recourse.
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