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The first chamber of commerce was established in Marseilles, France more than 400 years ago. Pirates off the Barbary Coast were pillaging French ships and even entering Marseilles’ harbour. This crisis led the town council to convene an emergency committee meeting on 5 August, 1599, in the public hall of Marseilles. The meeting led to the establishment of a four-member office charged with “bringing honour and splendour back to trade” – an initiative ratified by the King in April 1600.

By 1650, the term chamber of commerce had gained currency. Dunkerque was next followed by Lyons, Bayonne and Rouen in the 18th Century. The movement spread worldwide making chambers of commerce the largest network of businesses.

But if Marseilles had pirates to thank for the creation of its chamber, Cayman – with its own long history of buccaneers – and its chamber of commerce couldn’t boast a similarly dramatic past. It was Administrator John Cumber in 1964 who called for the creation of a chamber of commerce in the Cayman Islands. (An attempt by merchants seven to ten years earlier had been unsuccessful.)

Mr Cumber appointed the late Harry McCoy a senior civil servant to create the chamber. The government’s goal was to communicate with one organisation that could represent the voice of business in the country.

Attorneys at Law, the late William Walker and the late Warren Conolly assisted McCoy in drafting the documents.

McCoy assembled business and political leaders who agreed to serve as the founding members: the late Anton Bodden, a merchant and Member of the Legislative Assembly from Bodden Town; Cardinal DaCosta, a George Town businessman; the late Colin Panton, a businessman and Member of the Legislative Assembly from George Town; the late John Smith, a merchant from North Side; the late Harry McCoy, a civil servant; the late William Walker, a barrister from George Town; Derek Wight, a merchant from George Town; the late Capt. Theo Bodden, a merchant from George Town; the late Warren Conolly, a merchant, law agent and Member of the Legislative Assembly from East End; and the late T.W. Farrington, a merchant and Member of the Legislative Assembly from West Bay.

Government and business leaders established the organisation to “promote and protect trade, business, commerce and public welfare in the Cayman Islands”. Benson Ebanks holds the distinguished honour of serving as the chamber’s first president. Twenty-seven business leaders – men and women – have held the office since then.

Today, the chamber has 729 members – businesses, associations and individuals from all industry sectors – that employ 20,506 workers. Policy is developed by 12 councillors chaired by President Stuart Bostock. The council represents various business sectors and has a staff that collectively has more than 25 years experience in not-for-profit management and public policy development. Elections to fill council vacancies take place every year. Although initiated by government many years ago, the chamber receives no government funding and is self-sustaining financially. The council meets monthly and monitors all aspects of the local and international socioeconomic environment that may impact the country.

Today, the chamber continues to fulfil its mission devised 44 years ago to ensure Cayman remains an attractive place to live, invest and conduct business for Caymanians, residents, investors and visitors.

It’s a mandate the Chamber clearly understands and supports in its mission statement to:

  • To promote and protect the trade, business, commerce, agriculture, industries and manufacturers and public welfare in the Cayman Islands;
  • To consider, discuss and take action on questions directly or indirectly relating to or affecting such trade, business, commerce, agriculture, industries and manufacturers and public welfare in the Cayman Islands;
  • To collect and disseminate information concerning business and the public welfare;
  • To promote, approve or oppose legislation and other measures affecting business and the public welfare;
  • To act as arbitrators or set up machinery for arbitration in commercial disputes

“The Cayman Chamber is part of a global network of businesses that can open doors for its members to the world for investment and opportunity. A key role of the Chamber is also to facilitate inward investment and trade. The Cayman Islands ranks among the leading jurisdictions in the region for attracting foreign direct investment because of our excellent infrastructure, political stability, low crime rate and world-class regulatory and judicial systems and business-friendly legislation,” says Chamber President Stuart Bostock.

The Chamber works closely with all industry associations through its Council of Associations. This group of senior industry leaders representing all of the major industry associations discusses macro-socio economic issues and develops pro-active strategies to share with Government that helps to create an environment that protects the unique quality of life for Caymanians and residents while at the same time promotes international investment and business growth.

In his talk to Chamber members, Governor Jack set out why he is optimistic about Cayman’s future: solid and reliable rules and judiciary; world class accountants, auditors and attorneys; many first rate companies in all sectors; and beautiful islands that people want to live in and visit.

The Governor’s recipe for success as a financial centre is for Cayman to be seen as part of the solution, not part of the problem. Only by being seen to embrace change enthusiastically, can Cayman hope to soften any adverse impact, and position itself to take advantage of any new opportunities.

“We have solid and reliable laws and judiciary. We have world-class accountants, auditors and attorneys. For a small country, we have first rate businesses across different sectors, as illustrated by the people here today. We have beautiful islands that people want to live in and visit. I am optimistic about the future,” the Governor said. “That includes the financial services industry. Over the last few months that industry worldwide has been going through extraordinary times. We are already feeling the effects here in Cayman though probably not yet to the full extent. We cannot expect to continue as we are, nor to resume where we were once the good times return. We must not despair, we must not take panic measures, but we must not underestimate the challenges.

“In particular, we have to adapt to the emerging emphasis on transparency. Cayman now has a good record on anti-money laundering and, in practice, on cooperating with other jurisdictions, notably the US, on criminal tax matters. But we need to get that message across more clearly. Cayman must seek to conclude tax information exchange agreements with more countries, including the UK – Government is now working actively on this. And we should look again at any practices or laws that reinforce preconceptions about excessive secrecy, such as the Confidential Relationships Preservation Law, while accelerating work on data protection legislation,” he said.

Programmes launched for the benefit of the membership and the community by the chamber over the years includes the Chamber Pension Plan, the country’s first multi-employer plan; the Business Expo, the country’s first and largest annual trade show; Business After Hours, a networking and business development event; www.caymanchamber.ky, the islands’ first full service association website and business directory; Buy Caymanian initiative; the Professional Development and Training Centre; the Better Business Council; Mentoring Cayman; Cayman Crime Stoppers; Earth Day Roadside Clean-up; Put Drugs Out of Business; trade missions to Costa Rica and Panama and representation at trade shows and promotional events around the world. The chamber is a major supporter of Rotary Central’s Junior Achievement programme and has provided administrative, advisory and office support since 1997.