WTO chief negotiator encourages opponents to express views
NASSAU, BAHAMAS – As opponents of The Bahamas’ accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) gear up to march against joining the free trade market, chief negotiator for WTO talks Zhivargo Laing said The Bahamas’ offer to WTO members and those countries’ responses will be made available to the public tomorrow.
“The negotiating team and the government continues to press and do what it has to in the negotiations to see what outcomes can be achieved,” said Laing, who addressed WTO accession on ‘Z Live: Off The Record’ on Guardian Radio.
“That’s why you have negotiations because you are seeking to get terms that make sense for you.
“And so, one of the things that is happening this week, Wednesday, is there is going to be a release of the offer that the negotiating team put to the WTO members, so that all members of the public will be able to eyeball it and see.
“We are going to provide for you, the responses of countries to that offer, so you will see what they are asking of you; asking of the country to do.
“Each stage along the way, as there are changes to any offer, similarly that will happen [and] you will get to see what it is.
Laing said he expects the move to remove the “mystery” surrounding the process.
The government is seeking to complete The Bahamas’ full accession to the WTO this year.
Opponents have encouraged the government to give the country and its citizens an opportunity for more organic growth, instead of more infiltration of foreign entities.
One such group, Bahamians Agitating for a Referendum on Free Trade (BARF), contended that the government does not recognize the danger in WTO accession.
It said the decision should be left to the electorate.
The group has also asserted that the Bahamian people do not fully understand what WTO accession means for the nation, and insisted it will not be good.
Laing said opponents of the move have every right to push against it.
He applauded them for doing so, noting that it may cause the government to change course.
“That is the beauty of living in a country where there is a battle of ideas; there is a freedom to express ideas and there is an openness to agitating and advocating for public policy outcomes that you support or against public policy outcomes that you do not support,” he said.
“So, I applaud those who are doing it; welcome it; have no issue with it whatsoever.”
He continued, “This is democracy. This is our democracy.
“If in fact, for instance, they are able to create the kind of attention and advocacy [that] the government decides ‘listen, we are either; one, going to stop or reverse or reconsider’ that’s entirely legitimate to be done.
“Then, the government [would] just say to me and the negotiation team either; one, back off or two, go forward. That’s the mandate and that’s how it works.”
Laing revealed last October that the offer to the WTO by The Bahamas will require the government to forego around $40 million in annual revenue, but said the government should be able to make up the shortfall if the country’s offer is accepted by the global trading body.
He said even after The Bahamas potentially accedes to the WTO, there would be a five to seven-year adjustment period which would allow for the country to ease into the tariff changes and other economic adjustments.
Former Minister of Financial Services Ryan Pinder, the former WTO negotiators under the Christie administration, said recently that he is uncertain the country can withstand the initial shock of joining the WTO.
He said while he is not opposed to trade, he does not believe the move, given the country’s economic climate, is best advised.