ECCB to launch pilot digital currency project

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The Governor of the St. Kitts-based Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB), Timothy Antoine, Friday announced plans to launch a digital currency pilot programme of the Eastern Caribbean (EC) dollar.

Speaking during a media briefing with journalists throughout the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU), Antoine said there are several central banks throughout the world that are “seriously considering central bank digital currencies.

“I want from the outset make it very clear we are not hear speaking about crypto currencies. They are very different and we need to be clear about that,” Antoine told the journalists from Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, St. Kitts-Nevis and Montserrat.

A cryptocurrency is a digital asset designed to work as a medium of exchange that uses strong cryptography to secure financial transactions, control the creation of additional units, and verify the transfer of assets.

The ECCB serves as a central bank for these islands and Antoine said ‘what we are speaking of is a currency issued by the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank in the very same way that we issue our current polymer notes at this time. One is physical cash, the other is digital cash.

The four to six month pilot programme, is due to end in 2020, and Antoine said that all member states would be part of the pilot programme.

“For us to get a good pilot programme we need a combination of banks, credit unions, mobile wallet providers, we are going to need merchants like supermarkets and of course we want a population size to be able to have enough ….to test.

“But ultimately, we want to have, if successful, we will have digital currency in all of our member countries, Montserrat included,” he said, adding that ‘the challenge with the pilot is that you don’t want to go to big too fast, you want to be able to manage”.

He said initially the pilot would be conducted in two islands from the Windward and Leeward Islands “driven by interest, but then we know we have the support of the governments and ultimately all the countries will be involved at a later stage once it is deemed to be feasible and we have taken any lessons on board from the pilot phase”.

Earlier this week, the bank reported economic improvement in the sub-regional Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) last year, with Antoine saying the macro-economy improved, with unemployment levels also down.

He said also that efforts to reduce bad loans have paid off, although the 11.3 per cent average figure remains a concern for the Central Bank that had earlier reported a net profit of EC $32.7 million for the 2018-2019 period, a third consecutive year of profit, and exceeds last year’s profit by EC$21.9 million.