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BVI Leader Is Financial Services Spokesman For OECS

by Mike Godfrey,, New York

17 July 2002

At the meeting of Heads of Government of the OECS (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States) held in St Kitts and Nevis at the end of June, it was agreed that particular attention needed to be paid to the difficulties of the financial sector, with special reference to the offshore component, which had been pursued as a major area to achieve diversification of the economies of the OECS member states. Improvement of the regulatory framework and tax reform were singled out as particularly important. It was decided to convene a special meeting of the Authority (executive agency of the OECS) on the economy of the OECS countries within the next three months.

The meeting nominated spokespersons on key portfolios, with Ralph T. O'Neal, Chief Minister of the British Virgin Islands being named lead spokesperson for the OECS on financial services. Reporting back to the BVI Parliament, Mr O'Neal said: "At the meeting, Heads of Governments were allocated specific subjects as
lead spokespersons; I was honoured to be able to speak on the BVI's financial services," explaining that he would have to keep fully informed of the developments regarding the financial services industry, particularly regarding the state of negotiations with the OECD, European Union and the FTAF, so he could report back to the Heads of Government.

The main goal of the OECS is the formation of an economic union, agreed in principle at a meeting of the Authority held in Anguilla at the end of January 2002, with financing of $1m for the process of union provided by the government of Libya following a controversial visit to that country by a number of OECS Heads of Government in August 2001.

The project is expected to be implemented over a period of 2 years. Seven of the nine member states of the OECS, ie Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St.Kitts and Nevis, St.Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines are participating in the economic union initiative. Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands, the two remaining member states have requested time for further consideration, not least because of their status as 'dependent territories' of the UK.

Some concrete steps have been taken towards OECS economic union. Six of the independent member states have taken legislation to their national parliaments to facilitate free movement of OECS people in the sub-region and more are expected to follow. "However, the BVI and Anguilla, because of our special circumstances are not involved in the process," Mr O'Neal reiterated. A common OECS passport will be adopted on 1st January 2003 but will not be issued to Economic Citizens within the OECS.

The six independent islands already have a common currency, administered by a joint central bank, common aviation and telecommunications authorities, and a shared appeals court.

Under an agreement signed in June in St. George's, capital of Grenada, Cable & Wireless agreed to surrender its exclusive telecommunication licences in Dominica, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. A new agreement provides for pricing of certain telecoms regulated and unregulated services by Cable & Wireless and sets out these pricing rules, price caps and price cap rules in an annex which will form part of the licences that have been granted to Cable & Wireless by the Ministers of Telecommunications in the OECS Contracting States.

The Agreement further recognises the specific regulatory role and functions of the sub-regional and domestic regulatory bodies namely the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL) and the National Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (NTRC).

The six independent countries have also passed legislation enabling the creation of a regional securities exchange, giving legal effect to the Eastern Caribbean Securities Regulatory Commission (ECSRC), which was established in March/April 2001.

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