WTO accession closer

Minister of Financial Services, Trade & Industry and Immigration, the Hon Brent Symonette.

The government has invited small business owners to participate in a three-week program to engage in robust dialogue concerning The Bahamas’ accession to membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The Minnis administration has confirmed its intention to complete accession to the international organization by December 2019.

Spearheaded by the Ministry of Financial Services, Trade & Industry and Immigration in conjunction with the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers’ Confederation (BCCEC), the consultative program will give participants first-hand information concerning the road to WTO membership, the benefits and challenges involved in the process and how local businesses should prepare in order to reap the benefits ahead.

“We need your help for this,” assured Financial Services, Trade & Industry and Immigration Minister Brent Symonette.

“We need your input. This is the reason for these consultation sessions. They are real consultations; no position has been set in stone. Your input can matter to the positions that the Bahamian negotiating team will take. I look forward to your deliberations and give you assurance of our careful and serious consideration of your input.

“Membership in the WTO would allow progressive Bahamians, individuals and corporations, to increasingly pursue trade in the world and benefit from the protections and safeguards of rules applicable to members of the WTO.”

Further, Symonette said signing with the WTO would also make it easier to do business in and from The Bahamas, ultimately allowing Bahamian investors and international investors to maximize opportunities for profitable business operations.

As the country’s ease of doing business ranking remains in the triple digits, Symonette said, the government created an “Ease of Doing Business” committee ahead of signing onto the WTO, to ensure that the various concerns raised by numerous business owners are quickly addressed and ironed out.

“The government has appointed an Ease of Doing Business committee that has reported on a number of issues. We have a large batch of recommendations – one being the reduction in the cost of business licenses… There are several others that we will report about during budget discussions; because we are looking to make it easier to do business here,” he said.

Darren Pickstock, BCCEC director, echoed the minister’s sentiments.

“It’s important that the ease of doing business correlates with our accession into the WTO, because business coming into the Bahamas, and even Bahamians want to know that it’s easy to do business within The Bahamas,” said Pickstock.

“So, I think the government is aggressively addressing that. I think all of this works together to move in the right direction so that we can be ready for the WTO.”

The government obtained observer status in the WTO in 2000, which permitted the country to become acquainted with the rules and procedures of the organization.

It also gave the country the ability to prepare for and begin negotiations for accession.

In 2001, The Bahamas applied for full membership in the WTO and is now expected to be a member by the end of 2019.

“Successful participation in the WTO will help us accelerate growth and development of the Bahamian economy through increased strategic domestic and international capital formation. It will improve the country’s global competitiveness, improve access to global markets for Bahamian products and services [and] generate wealth opportunities for Bahamians,” shared Symonette.

While the government has recognized a long list of benefits once signed onto the WTO, Symonette said, it has also taken note of the challenges associated with the accession and is committed to ensuring that all of the kinks are ironed out ahead of joining.