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CFTC Is Waiting on SEC to Allow Futures Trading of More Digital Assets, Says CFTC Chairman

In a July 7 interview with predecessor Jim Newsome, current Chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Heath Tarbert ran down a list of pending concerns standing between cryptocurrencies and the long-awaited promised land of regulatory clarity.

Securities regulation and the CFTC’s purview

Tarbert was careful to outline the distinction between the work of the CFTC and its elder brother regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC. 

The determination of whether a digital asset is a security is “the sole province of the SEC,” Tarbert explained. “If their determination is that it’s not a security then we can start taking it under our own purview.” 

He continued:

“Once you start seeing more clarity on whether something is or is not a security, you will start seeing more futures listed on digital assets.” 

Currently, Bitcoin and Ether are both classified as commodities in the United States, which is why futures contracts for both are legally available in the country — in the case of Ether, only since May. Tarbert expressed interest in expanding this roster both today and in the past, but that remains an open question. 

The position of the United States in global crypto regulation

While Tarbert noted that “it’s critically important that the United States lead in technology and especially blockchain technology,” he was not satisfied with the country’s current frameworks. In response to a question from Newsome as to whether the U.S. was leading the world in regulation, Tarbert said: 

“I don’t think I can say that we’re a leader from the regulatory standpoint. I do think we’re a leader from the technological standpoint.” 

Tarbert did, however, emphasize that digital assets are an especially tricky area to write laws for because they cross borders so readily: “Regulators and governors care about borders but technology doesn’t. So really for this field to reach its full potential we need international cooperation.”

Speaking today, Tarbert reemphasized an earlier point about the CFTC being focused on principles rather than prescriptive rules.

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