Junior Minister of Trade Shereen Flax-Charles launches the Trade Commission on Tuesday. (Photo: FACEBOOK)

A streamlined, business-friendly environment across all sectors of the economy will be the goal of the Virgin Islands Trade Commission, which was officially “launched” on Tuesday during a virtual ceremony led by Junior Minister for Trade and Economic Development Shereen Flax-Charles.

In spite of the ceremony, however, the commission is not yet operational, and no members have been appointed to it.

“It is expected that the overall restructuring and transition of the Trade Commission into a fully functioning statutory body will take a period of between three to five years, because in addition, remember, we still have plenty more legislation to be passed to the House of Assembly,” Premier Andrew Fahie said during the virtual event.

Two related bills, the Business Licensing Act and the Virgin Islands Investment Act, have been introduced for their first reading, he said.

“These are just a few of what we have in store, as there are a proposed 49-plus legislative instruments that will seek to establish the legislative framework required for creating an attractive environment that will ensure the ease of doing business here in the territory of the Virgin Islands,” Mr. Fahie added.

He did not provide further details about the next steps for the Trade Commission.

The Trade Commission Act was passed in the HOA in June along with the Consumer Protection Act, requiring the establishment of the new statutory agency that will consist of a seven-person board.

No board members

But a representative of the Department of Trade, Investment Promotion and Consumer Affairs confirmed yesterday that no one has been appointed to the body, and attempts to reach Mr. Fahie and Ms. Flax-Charles were not immediately successful. In her remarks at the ceremony, however, Ms. Flax- Charles spoke broadly about the commission’s goals.

The overall plan, she explained, is to “restructure and transform the Department of Trade, Investment Promotion and Consumer Affairs by expanding its portfolio to function as the ‘one-stop shop’ for trade, business investment, fair competition and consumer affairs. This is to ensure effective implementation and administration of the National Trade Policy and all of
its legal instruments.”

Neither she nor the premier provided further details about the status of the National Trade Policy, which was approved by Cabinet under the previous government in November 2018 and then sent to the attorney general with instructions to draft the “appropriate legal instruments,” according to a Cabinet summary that month.

The policy has not been made public.

Planned board

Ms. Flax-Charles also explained that commission board members will be drawn from various sectors of the economy, including legal, social, environmental, education and private business, and will advise the minister in charge in matters relating to trade, investment and consumer affairs.

According to Tuesday’s presentation, the commission will have six functional areas of focus: policy planning, research and development; trade and export development; business development; investment promotion and facilitation; licensing and regulation; and fair trade, fair competition and consumer protection.

“Our gorgeous islands’ people must enjoy optimum participation in their economy,” Ms. Flax-Charles said Tuesday. “You, the people, must be able to participate in the opportunities that are present and which will emerge in your economy. It is our job as your government to create the environment that enables this to happen.”

‘Digital economy’

Through new frameworks established under the National Trade Policy, Ms. Flax-Charles also promised to “use technology to transform the Virgin Islands into a modern digital economy,” searching out new ideas for revenue generation.

Entrepreneurship will get a boost from the commission, she said, especially through support for small enterprises.

One of the key strategies to ensure ease of doing business in the territory is offering “fully digitised services through an integrated IT system of e-government,” according to the junior minister.

“Additionally, we will be establishing close linkages with manpower and economic priorities, as well as creating an education system with a strong focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics that would fit the needs of economic sectors,” she added.