Guyana, Barbados take steps to foster closer trade ties
– by agreeing landmark “merger legislation” between their respective consumer protection agencies
NOTING how collaborations with Barbados has helped highlight the need for stronger “merger legislation” here, Director of Guyana’s Competition and Consumer Affairs Commission (CCAC), Dawn Cush has praised an arrangement reached between her agency and the Barbados Fair Trading Commission (BFTC).
The agreement, in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), was signed on Friday by Cush and her Barbadian counterpart, BFTC’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Sandra Sealy. The CCAC and BFTC are consumer protection agencies for their respective nations, established by respective laws in each country.
Cush described the signing of the MoU as an important step between the two Commissions in concretising their co-operation ties.
“These two Commissions will continue to enforce the Competition Laws, and work together when necessary to ensure a level playing field. We are bound by the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, which, at Article170, seeks to establish and maintain institutional arrangements and administration procedures to enforce competition laws,” Cush noted.
Among those from BFTC who were also present at Friday’s event were Director of the Competition Unit, Antonio Thomspon; Senior Economist, Dr. Troy Waterman, and Senior Legal Advisor, Cherie-Ann Jones. Present for the CCAC, apart from Cush, were Competition Policy Officer, Anil Sukhdeo; Consumer Affairs Officer, Feyona Austin-Paul, and Communications Officer, Alison Parker.
According to Dr. Waterman, the signing of the agreement formalises cooperation between the two entities as they unite to achieve their respective functions.
“The cooperation agreement allows us to collaborate in the exchange of information and expertise, so we would be able to help facilitate each other’s mandate in terms of exploring and monitoring businesses and activities within our respective jurisdictions, to ensure that there really is free, fair and better competition,” he said. “This agreement allows us to essentially formalise the arrangement in pursuing our respective mandates,” he added.
Discussions for the bilateral MoU had started last year, with the seeds having first been sown following a work exchange programme between the two nations in 2017.
“It may be because of the strong familial roots between our two countries, and the bond developed over the years, in particular when the Competition Policy Officer spent two weeks with the BFTC in what could only be described as an effective work exchange,” Cush related.
It was during the work exchange that Guyana was involved in the BFTC’s oversight of the Sol Group’s attempt to acquire the Barbados National Terminal Company Ltd. (BNTCL). The application for acquisition was denied by the BFTC, as some of the terms in the acquisition gave Sol a big advantage in that market.
Playing a role in that event, Cush said, is what caused the CCAC to recognise that there was need for stronger merger legislation to govern transactions on Guyana’s soil, which is exactly what was being addressed by the MOU.
“It reinforced the point for CCAC of the need for urgent Merger Legislation, which we are at the stage of having consultation with the relevant parties in Guyana,” Cush noted during her remarks.
It was just last year that Guyana had a similar merger situation, when Central Bank, the Bank of Guyana (BOG), had cause to block the sale of Scotia Bank’s assets to Republic Bank Financial Holdings (RBFH), due to the high level of concentration of the banking system, which, had the sale gone forward, would have seen Republic Bank having over 50% assets and deposits in the local sector.
As pertains to other consumer-related issues, Guyana has long since been cited as being in need of stronger consumer legislation in a number of areas to better protect consumers. Outside of banking, hire purchase is another area often highlighted.
Aside from laws, enforcement of existing laws surrounding areas such as refunds and warranties have also been noted.
At Friday’s event, Cush extended her gratitude to all those who played a part in helping to bring about the instituting of the MoU.
“The CCAC welcomes this initiative, and wishes to say a big thank you to the BFTC. Mrs. Sealey, you have charted the course between our agencies. Thank you; Dr. Troy Waterman is a Man for all Seasons, and an asset to the BFTC. Thank you; without the staff of the Competition Department of the BFTC and CCAC’s Mr. Anil Sukhdeo, this would not be happening today. Ms. Allison Parker, as usual, with her commitment to excellence and willingness to do what it takes to make any activity a success, thank you,” Cush said.
Cush identified Barbados as one of two agencies in the Caribbean region that are the mature competition authorities, the other being Jamaica.
In Barbados, the FTC was established in January 2001, through that country’s Fair Trading Commission Act, as a successor of the Public Utilities Board, which was responsible for regulating public utilities, after it was realised that there was need for a new body with a broader mandate to deal with other areas.
The entity is tasked with the responsibility of monitoring general business conduct; investigating possible breaches of the Acts administered by the FTC; businesses and consumer education; and taking enforcement action wherever needed.
In Guyana, the CCAC was established in 2006, under the Competition and Fair Trading Act (CFTA), originally the Agency was named Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.
However, the National Competitiveness Council suggested that the Agency be renamed to Competition and Consumer Affairs Commission (CCAC), so as to encompass a broader scope and maintain regional and international standards.