The Virgin Islands Trade Commission Act, which sets out a framework needed to complement the proposed Consumer Protection Act, was sent to a select committee in the House of Assembly on July 31.
The previous week, the Consumer Protection Act had been sent to a select committee consisting of the same members: Premier Andrew Fahie, Junior Minister for Trade and Economic Development Sharie de Castro, Junior Minister for Tourism Shereen Flax-Charles, Opposition Leader Marlon Penn, and opposition member Mitch Turnbull.
Mr. Fahie said in the HOA on July 31 that the commission set up by the VITC Act “will be the principal body in the Virgin Islands with the responsibility for promoting business, trade, investment and consumer affairs.”
Some of its functions would include advising ministers, promoting fair trade practices, identifying markets for foreign investment opportunities, and evaluating trade licence applications.
Ms. de Castro said the overall plan for implementing the commission is to restructure the Department of Trade, Investment Promotion and Consumer Affairs to more efficiently handle all business and trade related issues.
Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Minister Vincent Wheatley spoke in support of the commission, which he said would help diversify the economy beyond tourism and financial services.
However, opposition member Julian Fraser (R-D3) expressed scepticism that the commission would function as hoped.
“I don’t know how fair it is for a country with 32,000 people to use the same names for a commission or whatever it might be as a country with 100 million. And we know what they do in those countries. Are these functions real? Will they ever get the opportunity to exercise the power that they have?” he asked, adding, “Here in the Virgin Islands I am yet to see a commission function in the way that they are expected to, maybe because the volume is so small.”
He also said the act was not specific enough in regulating how the members of the commission would be appointed, where its offices would be, and how it would operate.
Mr. Fraser also called for the commission’s members to be elected, echoing an argument he previously made during the debate on the Consumer Protection Act.
“The power that this commission is going to wield within our community, you do not want people who can be easily compromised. You want people who have the fear of doing things that they know that can get them in trouble,” he said, adding, “You don’t just want to pick some people who might be a friend who you think can handle the job, and the next thing you know they fall flat on their faces.”