Governor of the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) Timothy Antoine said Barbados and the rest of the region can transform their economies by introducing a regional digital currency.
Antoine told a one-day Bitt seminar at the Barbados Hilton Resort today that in order to achieve at least five per cent economic growth and single-digit unemployment, the region needed to embrace digital currencies such a bitcoin.
“This region we long call the Caribbean needs economic transformation, and I want to see it in my lifetime,” he said, pointing out that if anything, the recent devastating hurricanes highlighted the need for transformation.
“As we speak at this moment this region is averaging less than two per cent growth per annum. We need to get to at least five per cent and that is the goal of the ECCB. I know that is Jamaica’s target as well. We have to transform this region, and I certainly believe blockchain technology has the potential to help us do that.
“So how are we going to do that transformation? It has to be a quantum leap. It can’t be some of the incremental things I see happening at this moment. It is just not going to work . . . we have to quantum leap using technology available to us.”
Speaking on the topic The Future is Now: Leveraging Blockchain For Economic Transformation, the regional banker said the eight-member ECCB was currently engaged in discussions with the Barbados-based financial technology firm Bitt for a pilot blockchain currency in the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union.
He explained that it would explore the development of a digital dollar for the Eastern Caribbean dollar using technology that would be subjected to rigorous testing to determine its sustainability “for broad base implementation”.
Antoine also said the issue had the attention of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which had established a working group to examine the possibility and report to the leaders at their next summit.
He acknowledged that for a digital currency to take root in the region a number of regulations would have to be put in place, and there must be greater cooperation, as well as buy-in from all stakeholders.
In a brief presentation Parliamentary Secretary in the Ministry of Finance Senator Jepter Ince said Barbados could not escape the new technology, pointing out that digital currency had the opportunity to transform economies.
He also called on CARICOM to “think about a digital currency”, adding that it could “go parallel with the Barbados dollar as well as the Eastern Caribbean dollar.
“Those are the type of things we want to happen and those are the type of things we must consider. I am confident it is here to stay,” Ince said.
Chief Executive Officer of the US-based internet retailer Overstock.com Patrick Bryne said Barbados and the rest of the region had the opportunity to become the first to have a digital currency, given the extensive work that was being carried out by Bitt.
Adding that Bitt was ready to launch its digital wallet, merchant payment process and digital asset exchange systems come December, Bryne said “this means that you, the Caribbean, Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, have a unique opportunity still . . . to be the first in the world”.
He said there were several benefits, including easier and cheaper transfer of funds, a reduction in tax avoidance, financial inclusion, lower possibility of counterfeiting and better measurement of economic data, as well as increased opportunity for financial operators to know their customers.
He pointed out that several central banks around the world had already begun to examine the possibility of incorporating blockchain technology in the regulated financial system.