Caribbean RoundUp

Antigua

Antigua and Barbuda recently described as “disappointing” the latest round of talks with representatives from the Office of the United States Trade Representatives (USTR) in a bid to resolve their long standing internet gaming dispute.

“There is no escaping the fact that this was a disappointing meeting, and that the USTR proposals fell far short of what is required to settle this matter,” said Ambassador Colin Murdoch, who headed the local delegation to the talks in Washington.

“In failing to address key proposals that we have made, the USTR has put U.S. intellectual property rights holders at risk,” he added.

Antigua and Barbuda has criticized the United States since 1998 of breaching its commitments to members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) under the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) by enacting laws that prevented foreign-based operators from offering gambling and betting services to its citizens.

In 2005, the WTO ruled that Washington had violated international trade agreements by prohibiting operation of offshore Internet gambling sites. Antigua claimed that it lost US$3.4 billion a year due to the U.S. action, but the WTO awarded the island US$21 million.

But in its final ruling, the Geneva-based WTO has allowed Antigua and Barbuda to suspend certain concessions and obligations it has under international law to the United States in respect of intellectual property rights.

Bahamas

A sailboat crowded with migrants from Haiti apparently struck a reef and capsized in the Bahamas, killing at least 30. Photographs taken by the U.S. Coast Guard during a rescue operation showed about 100 people on the boat, clinging to every available space on the over-turned vessel off Staniel Cay in the Bahamas.

The Royal Bahamas Defence Force and U.S. Coast Guard launched the rescue operation.

Staniel Cay is about 80 miles southeast of Nassau, the Bahamian capital.

It is part of the Exuma chain and is surrounded by low-lying reefs. The boat, in addition to being overloaded, likely encountered choppy water, said Lt Origin Deleveaux, a spokesman for the Royal Bahamas Defense Force.

Barbados

The ratings agency, Standard & Poor’s (S&P) has revised downwards the long-term rating for Barbados – the second downgrade in four months.

Recently, the United States-based credit rating agency announced that it had moved the island’s rating from BB+ to BB- in response to a persistent current account deficit and a high fiscal deficit.

“The downgrade reflects the mounting external pressures associated with a persistent current account deficit and external financing challenges, as well as the ongoing high fiscal deficit largely because of a substantial fall in government revenues as a result of the weak economy,” the agency said.

According to S&P due to the large fiscal deficits, it is expected that the net general government debt burden will rise to above 70 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in fiscal 2013 (ending March 2014) from 67 percent in fiscal 2012 and 60% in fiscal 2011.

In reacting to the news, former president of the Economic Society, Ryan Straughn, said the latest rating has not come as a surprise and suggested that the writing had been on the wall for some time since government did not go ahead with the expenditure cuts announced by the minister of Finance in the August 2013 Budget.

Straughn met with a visiting team from S&P two weeks ago.

Guyana

Guyana has launched a GUY$5,000 note that will go into circulation on Dec. 9. (GUY$1=US$0.01).

Bank of Guyana Deputy Governor Dr. Gobin Ganga said an awareness campaign would be launched before the note goes into circulation.

The bank said the new note would significantly reduce the number of notes it would be required to process in the fast-approaching holiday season.

The note also carries two track threads with optically variable and metallic print properties. In addition, it carries a mark for the visually impaired and partially sighted.

Finance Minister Dr. Ashni Singh, who unveiled the new note, said it represents an important addition to the range of local currency in use, and businesses would be handling a single note for every five $1,000 notes.

“This really just represents a higher denomination; that is to say that our dollar has the same value today as it had before, except that now we will be holding one $5,000 bill instead of five $1,000 bills,” he said.

Haiti

A major highway in Haiti will get an overhaul with the help of US$50 million from the Inter-American Development Bank.

The bank’s grant aims to repair parts of National Highway #1, which connects Haiti’s two biggest cities and busiest seaports, Port-au-Prince and Cap-Haitien.

The goal is to foster economic development by making road transport from the north to Port-au-Prince more efficient and safer. This includes widening shoulders and installing guardrails, speed bumps and road signs. The program also seeks to educate motorists about road safety.

Jamaica

The Constitutional Court recently threw out an application challenging the refusal of three Jamaican television stations to air an advertisement promoting tolerance for homosexuals.

The three-member panel in handing down their ruling dismissed claims brought by gay rights activist Maurice Tomlinson against Television Jamaica (TVJ), CVM TV and the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ).

Tomlinson, a Jamaican attorney who married another man, Tom Decker, in Canada recently, had argued the action of Television Jamaica, CVM TV and the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica breached the Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms.

He also contended the advertisement did not violate broadcasting laws or regulations and, as such, the television stations are unjustified in refusing to air it. Managing director of the RJR Communications Group Gary Allen said he welcomed the ruling.

The judges had recently reserved their judgment after hearing arguments over a four-day period.

Queen’s Counsel Lord Gifford argued the stations violated the Character of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms by refusing to broadcast the advertisement. But the attorneys for the defendants asked the court to dismiss the claim, with QC Hugh Small arguing the advertisement could be viewed as support for homosexuality.

St. Lucia

St. Lucia has called for a shakeup of the financially strapped regional airline, LIAT, as it agreed to guarantee a three-million EC dollar loan for the airline now undergoing a modernization of its aging fleet.

“It’s not just a matter of changing the chief executive officer but dealing decisively with a problem in management that has been inherited over the years,” said Prime Minister Dr. Kenny Anthony.

The airline, which last week had been forced to cancel many of its flights because of a strike by pilots, has been without a chief executive officer since Trinidadian Ian Brunton resigned in September.

Anthony, who is also the finance minister, said that there was also a need for a complete overhaul of the airlines business model in order to ensure its long term sustainability and recommended a revision of operations and logistics.

Anthony said that LIAT, which flies to more than 21 destinations daily, must stop operating in a traditional manner believing that the only two bases it can have in the region are Antigua and Barbados. Castries has now become the fifth regional country to have a stake in the airline that in September signed a US$65 million loan with the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) to finance the purchase of aircraft in the context of a fleet modernization project.

LIAT said that the loan agreements “provide for the loans to be on lent-to and repaid by LIAT over a 13-year period following a grace period of two years.”

St. Vincent

Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves says while a recent public opinion poll has predicted a re-election victory for the ruling Unity Labour Party (ULP), he wants supporters to remember that opinion polls do not win general elections.

Gonsalves, who is seeking a fourth consecutive term in office at the next general election constitutionally due in 2015, told reporters that his administration still has many outstanding projects to undertake during the next few months.

“There are many items on the agenda. And, as you notice, we are not only talking. We are doing things,” he said.

The poll, conducted by the Barbados-based Caribbean Research Services Inc. (CADRES) during the month of October found that there was “overall positive support for the ULP government, which is above the level that it received in the 2010 election.”

It said that voters still prefer Prime Minister Gonsalves by an almost two to one margin over Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace, the leader of the main opposition New Democratic Party (NDP).

In the 2010 general election, the ULP won eight of the 15 seats with the remainder going to the NDP.

Eustace has already downplayed the findings of a poll saying that the ULP had conducted its own poll between July and September that showed the party being booted out of office.

Trinidad

High Court Judge and former Director of Public Prosecutions, Justice Geoffrey Andrew Henderson was recently elected a Judge of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague.

His unanimous election followed the withdrawal on Nov. 21 of Uruguay’s nominee to fill the vacancy created by Trinidad and Tobago’s President Anthony Carmona’s resignation as an ICC judge in March.

The election was conducted recently by the ICC State Parties of the Rome Statute assembled at the ICC in The Hague during the Twelfth Session of the Assembly of State Parties. In a release issued recently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Henderson’s candidacy was approved by the assembly in the first and only round of voting.

He secured 98 votes out of the 99 cast with one abstention, surpassing the two-thirds majority required for election. Henderson will serve the unexpired portion of the term left on Carmona’s resignation as a result of his election to the president of the Republic of TT. He will serve until March 10, 2021.

Barbados

The Barbados government says it will implement fully, the 15 percent tax on lottery winnings over a certain amount, even as it acknowledged that “some changes” had been made to the measure announced in the national budget.

The Ministry of Finance said that the new measure would come into effect now that the appropriate legislation has been approved.

The statement said that the Ministry of Finance is now putting the “finishing touches to the proposal, following which industry players will be duly informed. It is expected that this process will be completed in a few weeks.”

Under the new proposal, people who won more than BDS$100,000 or more in lotteries would be required to pay 15 percent tax.

Meanwhile, the government said that legislation regarding the Consolidation Tax, The Tax on Bank Assets, and the Municipal Solid Waste Tax, have either been completed or are in the final stages of completion and will be laid and debated in Parliament over the next three weeks.

“When passed, together with the passage of the Lottery Winnings Tax, they would represent the full legal implementation of the tax component of government’s fiscal measures from 2013,” the Ministry of Finance said.

Compiled by Azad Ali

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