March 5, 2003 – Delegate Donna M. Christensen called on her congressional colleagues Wednesday to raise the duty-free exemption for U.S. residents returning from visits to the Virgin Islands if they increase the level for other Caribbean destinations, so that it will remain double the amount allowed for anywhere else in the region.
"For many years, it has been consistent U.S. policy to encourage tourists to make purchases in the Virgin Islands and other insular possessions by providing a higher duty exemption for insular possession purchases as compared with purchases in other travel destinations," Christensen said Wednesday in a release.
She said that a "Main Street" economy in which merchants sell a wide range of goods to overnight and cruise ship visitors is critical to the territory.
"A key consideration in travel and purchase decisions by U.S. tourists is the amount of the personal duty exemption for returning travelers," she said.
Christensen's remarks came as the U.S. House of Representatives discussed increasing the duty-free exemption for people returning from other Caribbean islands to $800 from the current $600. "This legislation would seriously harm the Virgin Islands and many of our citizens," she said.
Currently U.S. residents returning from the Virgin Islands can take home $1,200 worth of goods without paying duty. Christensen wants to maintain the current two-to-one ratio by increasing the territory's allowance to $1,600 if $800 is approved for other islands.
Christesen said last week that preferences such as the one enjoyed by the Virgin Islands are not widely supported and are on their way out. The first wave in this regard came in November 2002 when the duty-free allowance for U.S. residents returning home from Europe went to $800 from $400, the first such increase in 20 years, she said then.
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