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Caribbean Leaders To Discuss All-Encompassing Stock Exchange Again

by Robert Lee,, London

18 May 2001

Caribbean leaders are set to discuss exactly what stands in the way of establishing a true Caribbean Stock Exchange when they meet in the Bahamas next month for their annual summit. The Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce (CAIC) has said that it wants to ''present a comprehensive picture'' to the leaders during their deliberations in Nassau.

The concern is that the Caribbean will be left on the sidelines as globalisation proceeds apace. CAIC's President, Charmaine Gardner, was quoted in publication The Black World Today, as saying: 'The potential of seamless connectivity and its manifestation in electronic commerce, provides individuals and institutions with the power to sit in the comfort of their homes or offices and to be able to buy and sell on any exchange in the world.' She pointed to the fact that share trading is increasingly available round-the-clock, whether in New York, London or Tokyo, saying: 'right here in the Caribbean, such facilities are not available to the average investor.'

Amongst the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries, there are only four - Barbados, the Bahamas, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago - with active stock markets, although Suriname and Guyana could soon join them. The smaller Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), comprising Dominica, Grenada, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Kitts-Nevis, Montserrat and Antigua and Barbuda, is in the process of establishing its own stock exchange.

The idea for the development of a regional stock exchange emerged in 1989 on the initiative of the government of Jamaica. In 1991 the three stock exchanges in the region at that time - the Barbados Securities Exchange, the Jamaica Stock Exchange and the Trinidad and Tobago Stock Exchange - entered into an arrangement for cross border trading in equities. A regional stock exchange was seen as an integral part of the deepening and widening of the integration process in CARICOM. The objectives of the regional stock exchange were identified as follows: to promote the movement of capital across the region; to increase investment opportunities; to encourage optimum financing for CARICOM firms irrespective of where the entity resides; and, to increase the attractiveness of the region as an area for investment, both by regional and non-regional investors. The Grand Anse Declaration agreed to a scheme for the movement of capital across the region, starting at first with the Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago exchanges. An arrangement was worked out and implemented in April 1991 under which those exchanges undertook to cross list and cross trade stocks.

The general opinion seems to be that an expansion of stock exchange activity in the region is long overdue. Enid Bisember, senior economist with the Guyana-based CARICOM Secretariat, was quoted as sayng: 'Although the initial focus was on utilising the facilities and infrastructure that existed in the three countries, the intention was that the participation by all territories was the ultimate goal and long-term objective.' One of the major impediments to such a goal, however, is the fact that there are so many different currencies in the region, and efforts towards establishing a common currency have made little headway so far.

Last month the CAIC and the accounting firm Ernst & Young brought together the major players in the region's stock exchanges for a symposium in Trinidad entitled 'Toward a Common Caribbean Regional Stock/Securities Exchange'. The symposium was told that the Caribbean could lose out unless the region acts soon. With the surge in electronic trading, local investors could quite easily turn to the US, Europe and Asia, bypassing the local market completely. The symposium found that most people envisage a single regional stock market as an electronic affair linking issuers, investors and stockbrokers. There would be a regional regulator and uniform rules for trading, settlement and clearing.

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