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Prime Ministers Ralph Gonsalves, of St Vincent and the Grenadines, left, and Keith Rowley, of Trinidad and Tobago. (File photo)
Prime Ministers Ralph Gonsalves, of St Vincent and the Grenadines, left, and Keith Rowley, of Trinidad and Tobago. (File photo)
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KINGSTOWN, St. Vincent (CMC) — Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves says he has received a promise from his Trinidad and Tobago counterpart, Keith Rowley, that the situation whereby local businesses and farmers who sell agricultural produce to Port of Spain are unable to purchase Eastern Caribbean dollars in Port of Spain will be addressed soon.

Gonsalves said that Rowley gave the re-assurance on the sidelines of the recently concluded Caribbean Community (CARICOM) summit held in Guyana.

“I raised the matter again with the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, and gave him again a copy of the letter which I had sent to him,” Gonsalves said on the state-owned NBC radio following his return from Georgetown.

“And he said that before he left Guyana, he was going to inform the Minister of Finance [Colm Imbert] to sort out this matter with the central bank,” Gonsalves said.

He said he took to the Georgetown meeting copies of the December 2023 letter he had sent to Rowley, just in case Kingstown had to raise the issue formally at the CARICOM summit.

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“But I had a one-on-one with …  Keith Rowley, my brethren, and he said, ‘I’ll sort this out, Ralph.’ So, I got that assurance. I’m relying on his assurance. I can’t take that assurance to the bank. But I’m relying on it because I think he will do what he says.”

Traders in agricultural produce across the region, referred to here as “traffickers”, have faced challenges for years converting the Trinidad and Tobago currency in which they trade in that CARICOM country to the Eastern Caribbean dollar.

While various measures have been put in place, however from time-to-time the system collapses without warning.

Opposition legislator, Israel Bruce raised the issue in Parliament last month, noting that in the budget address in January, Finance Minister, Camillo Gonsalves had said that the arrangement which had been fashioned between the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago (CBTT) and the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) and the Bank of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (BoSVG) had been “peremptorily terminated by the Central Bank of Trinidad & Tobago”.

Bruce noted that the finance minister had said that the prime minister would have addressed the matter fully.

Gonsalves confirmed that he had written to Rowley on Dec. 8, 2023 concerning the termination of the arrangement with the CBTT.

He said there had been at Kingstown’s request and involving the CBTT and the ECCB,  a solution  piloted with BoSVG in November 2018 to facilitate Vincentian trafficker up to TT$1.5 million per month.

“On November the 22nd, 2023, the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago informed the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank that the arrangements to assist small traders from our country will cease on December 31, 2023 and will not be renewed.”

Gonsalves quoted sections of his letter to Rowley, saying he was “absolutely shocked” and pointing out that  St. Vincent and the Grenadines has “a substantial trade imbalance” with Trinidad and Tobago.

“St. Vincent and Grenadines pays exporters from Trinidad and Tobago in hard currency for its imports. Imports from Trinidad and Tobago to St. Vincent and Grenadines run in excess of US$70 million annually,” Gonsalves said in the letter.

“I feel sure that you’re not aware of this recent injustice to the small traders of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In fact, the export from St. Vincent and Grenadines to Trinidad and Tobago prior to the hassles by the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago in 2018 amounted to US$10 million,” he wrote.

Gonsalves said he explained to Rowley that “the difficulties by these small traders in conducting foreign exchange transactions out of Trinidad and Tobago have driven most of these traders from the marketplace. They have simply become fed up and exhausted by the ridiculous hassles.

“Now, the lifeline of a paltry 1.5 million Trinidad and Tobago dollars per month is being caused by an unconscionable Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago.”

The prime minister told parliament that he used “fairly firm and robust language” in the letter in which he further told Rowley, “as you are undoubtedly aware, I have long held the view that the CARICOM Single Market and Economy cannot prevail, if its member countries remain or become unequally yoked.

“I’m appealing to you to write this egregious wrong done to the small traders of St. Vincent and Grenadines,” Gonsalves wrote.

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