Two proposed laws will reclassify businesses, up some fees, and implement new processes related to investment, work permits and trade licenses under the umbrella of the new Trade Commission, establishing a “one-stop shop” for all things trade and investment, according to Junior Minister for Trade and Economic Development Shereen Flax-Charles.
“The Trade Department will no longer exist as it is,” Ms. Flax-Charles said last Thursday during the first in a series of livestreamed meetings inviting stakeholders to give feedback on the changes. “Now, what will happen is that, for instance, if a foreign investor wants to do business in the BVI, everything will come through the Trade Commission. … We will facilitate every single aspect of their application, inclusive of work permits, etcetera.”
She added that the Labour and Immigration departments “will still handle those things” as well, but everything will also run through the “one-stop shop” at the Trade Commission.
The Trade Commission Act was passed in the House of Assembly in June along with the Consumer Protection Act, requiring the establishment of a new statutory agency that will eventually consist of a seven-person board.
The commission was first “launched” during an event late last month. However, even as Ms. Flax-Charles and her policy advisers embark on a blitz of public meetings this week, no one has been appointed to the board.
At the time of the launch, Premier Andrew Fahie said the commission will evolve into a functioning statutory body over three to five years.
Last Thursday, Ms. FlaxCharles said that for now, the focus of the implementation strategy is to pass further legislative frameworks laying the foundation for the commission, including the Business Licensing and Investment acts.
“The department will transition within the year in terms of implementing those instruments because those were key to set the foundation,” she said.
As for current Trade Department staff, they will eventually be given new duties.
“Most of the current Trade Department personnel who would like to go into other technical areas will be reassigned to technical positions with the commission,” she said. “Then we will provide the necessary training and retool those employees.”
The proposed Business Licensing Act would repeal and replace the 1990 Business, Professions and Trade Licences Act, streamlining the process for applying for trade licences by enacting a new application process and revising the fee structure for both belongers and non-belongers.
This step would see many licensees classified differently and some businesses paying more. For trade licence fees, Ms. Flax-Charles said, “We have aligned them with external best practices.”
Under the proposed act, belonger licence fees would range from $150 to $1,500, up from $25 to $200.
Non-belongers, however, would be considered foreign direct investors, and would pay fees ranging from $1,500 to $15,000, up from the current $200 to $600.
“So under that, they would have to be approved under the investment regime in order to receive a licence to operate within the territory,” said Senior Policy Analyst Lizette George, who joined Ms. Flax-Charles in the livestreamed meeting. “So that’s another change as well, and all of the procedures will be clearly outlined in the appropriate regulation.”
In addition, she said, “We’re revising the categories of businesses, and we’re using the International Standard [Industrial Classification of All] Economic Activities, which is an internationally recognised standard for all economic activities.”
The act doesn’t contain every change to business licensing that may take place down the road, she added.
“So you will see we have a number of areas where we will be changing, whether it be the processes, the setting, the establishment of quotas, zoning, even as it relates to where businesses should be set up,” she said.
Ms. Flax-Charles also spoke about the proposed Investment Promotion Act, which she described as “very detailed.”
“It seeks to develop the economy in a manner that encourages foreign direct investment, and it will allow us to create an attractive environment for investors who desire to come and invest in the territory, open a business, and operate from within the
territory,” she explained.
Besides taking charge of the application process for investing, the commission will “provide aftercare service, in terms of monitoring and evaluating the investment to ensure that the investment is performing … and to ensure that the investor’s needs are met while they’re here.”
Stakeholders will get a chance to provide feedback on the proposed legislation and the commission itself as the ministry continues a series of public meetings on Sunday and Monday (see sidebar), as well as meeting with individual business interest groups.
Last Thursday, Mses. Flax-Charles and George presented to BVI Finance’s virtual Breakfast Forum, where some of the more than 80 participants asked questions and gave suggestions.
As of last week, more meetings remained slated for the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission, tenants at the Cyril B. Romney Tortola Pier Park, the BVI Chamber of Commerce and Hotel Association, the Marine Association of the VI, government stakeholders, and other groups.
Private sector representatives are invited to contact the Premier’s Office with feedback.
“We all have to take ownership of this,” Ms. George said. “It’s not just a government thing: The economy is everybody. “Actually, I am a firm believer that the private sector is the driver of the economy, while government is the facilitator, and therefore the private sector should take this initiative as seriously as we are, because our economy needs this.”