NASSAU, BAHAMAS – As the country continues to ready itself for accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), government’s chief negotiator with the WTO Zhivargo Laing took his public education campaign to the Bahamas Contractor’s Association on Wednesday.
Joining the WTO has been a public debate in The Bahamas for over a decade now.
The WTO was formed 18 years ago and its overall aim has been to reduce tariffs and other barriers to build economic growth.
To date, the country has asserted its intent to join but has never given a firm date as to when it will join the international organization.
Government signaled that it might be signing onto the agreement before December 2019, but in the meantime, it has engaged in widespread consultation with the local business community for their feedback.
Simultaneously, Laing has been making the rounds to share information from his various interactions with WTO member states from around the globe.
On Wednesday, Laing addressed a number of concerns as it relates to the WTO.
Popular concerns like free trade and the free movement of people within member states were addressed.
More importantly, Laing revealed that sectors like the construction industry would not immediately be affected by the country signing with the WTO.
He confirmed that the sector is currently protected, but not immune to changes in the future.
But, even with changes to the current framework, he assured contractors that the industry would benefit more than it would suffer a loss.
Similarly, contractors questioned why the country would sign onto the agreement when neighbour Caribbean island-nations like Haiti; which has been a member state since January 1996, is a spiralling economic nightmare.
“When you are pointing out that Haiti is a member you should also point out that there are other countries that are members who are actually thriving,” he said.
“It’s not fair to point to Haiti with its entrenched political issues and historic depravations and the like.
“We don’t compare The Bahamas to Haiti for anything else, so why do we compare it to Haiti when it relates to the WTO?”
The WTO’s membership currently stands at 164 countries and 23 observer governments, according to online sources.
The Bahamas is among one dozen countries that have not joined the WTO.
Laing opined that joining the WTO would open the door for improved trading and economic opportunities for various sectors in the country.
On the flip side, he noted that if The Bahamas ever wanted to pull out of its agreement with the organization, there is a simple exit strategy.
“Mind you 164 countries have joined and none have never left; they know that there are benefits to being in, but if you wanted to leave any country is able to withdraw itself from the agreement at any time by putting an application in for such withdrawal and it will take effect six months after the notice of withdrawal would have been submitted,” Laing explained.
The government recently made public the country’s goods and services offer which was officially submitted to the WTO in August 2018.
The paper, which outlines The Bahamas’ terms for accession, also includes recommendations and responses from member countries including the United States (US).
Since then, the government has sought to engage the opinion of the business community before presenting an amended version of the country’s goods and services offered to the international body.