There are not enough funds available at this time for the government to move forward with the long-awaited Trade Commission.
This was revealed by Deputy Premier and Trade Minister, Lorna Smith, who told lawmakers that an assessment was done by the government and it was determined that the first year of operations for the Commission is estimated to cost roughly $1.8 million.
In contrast, Minister Smith said operations for the current Trade Department are estimated at just $800,000 per annum.
Eighth District Representative, Marlon Penn, asked Smith to disclose whether the Trade Commission is now fully operational and if the Department of Trade, Consumer Protection Affairs, and the Investment Promotion Unit have been subsumed under the Commission as prescribed by law.
The Trade Commission Act was brought into force in November 2022 and Smith said the law provides for the Commission to promote and oversee business, trade, investment, and consumer affairs in the territory.
“A board has been appointed and received orientation in May 2023,” Minister Smith shared. “However, due to the absence of critical administrative prerequisites, such as sufficient human and financial resources, the Commission has not yet achieved full operational status.”
She said this meant that the Trade Department continues to be administered by the central government and has not been incorporated into the Commission.
The Minister further related that there was no timeframe for the Commission’s establishment, due to “several significant challenges that hinder its effective functioning”, which she said will likely be discussed at a later meeting in the House of Assembly.
But Penn was not satisfied with the response and urged that more details be provided, particularly in terms of how the current arrangements comply with the new law.
The minister then stated: “My concern is to make sure that the people of the BVI receive value for money. As I’ve said before, I am looking at how best to manage the Department and the Commission.”
Meanwhile, Premier Dr Natalio Wheatley explained that when laws are passed, there is usually a transition period allowed before the statute is fully brought into effect.
“It’s my understanding in government that when government transforms a department into a statutory body, there’s a certain period of transition,” Dr Wheatley said. “The operations are not transferred to the statutory body completely until the statutory body has been set up.”
He said that it should, therefore, be expected that the Trade Department will continue to process trade applications and provide other services to businesses until the point where the Trade Commission has been set up.
Dr Wheatley said there is only a board in place currently and said the Commission cannot operate and serve the business community until they are fully set up.
Penn, however, insisted that the law should be followed and explained that the law is clear on the transitional period. He said if this was not followed, then the government needed to come to the legislature to make the necessary amendments.
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