St Vincent considers suing Trinidad over currency issue

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

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KINGSTOWN, St Vincent (CMC) — The ongoing currency issue in which Vincentian traders in agricultural produce are unable to convert their earnings to Eastern Caribbean dollars after plying their trade in Trinidad and Tobago could end up before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Ralph Gonsalves, told a press conference on Monday that while his government has implemented short-term measures of “a sensible, practical nature” to deal with the matter in Kingstown, a long-term solution is needed.

As a result of the ongoing situation, some traders have large stockpiles of Trinidad and Tobago currency in Port of Spain and farmers in St Vincent are reluctant to sell their produce to these traders because of the delay in getting paid.

As result, Kingstown has set up a facility at the Bank of St Vincent and the Grenadines that allows the conversion of Trinidad and Tobago dollars to Eastern Caribbean dollars.

However, Port of Spain says it is constrained by a shortage of foreign exchange in its financial sector.

On Monday, for the second time this month, reporters asked Gonsalves about the situation, which he said he would raise at the upcoming intercessional meeting of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders in Haiti next month.

“And I will raise it and I will make certain suggestions about certain things which we may have to do beyond what we have been trying,” the prime minister said, adding that he knows that the governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, Timothy Antoine, has been trying with the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago to resolve the situation.

“And we're not making the progress which we should be making,” he said, adding that the issue is of great importance and that is why he has accorded it that level of importance “and to see if we can have a long-term solution, which is fair”.

Regarding the stockpiles of Trinidad and Tobago dollars that Gonsalves said Vincentian traders have in Port or Spain, he said: “What you want them to do? To buy Trinidadian goods to bring them here to sell? This is what I say to [Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago Keith] Rowley. It's wrong. It's unfair. And I haven't checked the lawyers on it, but I suspect that it is a matter which the CCJ may well have to pronounce on.”

“I'm not resting with it. I can't buy your oil, your products from Petrotrin and I can't buy your Busta, your Bermudez Biscuit, I can't buy all of those things, you have a trade surplus with me, with St Vincent and the Grenadines, annually of about US$100 million and, listen, when you do it for all of the currency union, because properly speaking, in monetary terms, in economic terms, we should use the number for the whole of the currency union, because we have one currency. So, the matter is even worse when you look at it from the standpoint of the currency union. It's unacceptable.”

Gonsalves, who is also a lawyer, said Port of Spain cannot simply say that things are difficult and it doesn't have the foreign exchange.

“I understand that you have a problem but put aside some of this extra money that you have and pay me.”

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