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The Bahamas to become a WTO member by 2019

The Minnis Cabinet has approved an aggressive push for The Bahamas to become a full World Trade Organisation (WTO) member by 2019.

Brent Symonette, Minister with responsibility for Trade and Industry, has confirmed that the WTO process is among the Minnis administration’s priorities as it seeks to re-position the Bahamian economy for growth via liberalisation and deregulation.

“The Government of the Bahamas has considered the question of WTO accession,” Mr. Symonette told Tribune Business, “and reached a conclusion that we will appoint a chief negotiator and negotiating team, made up of different people from the relevant ministries – Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Financial Services etc – which will look at the current standing of WTO.

“The idea is to see if we can be in a position to accede to WTO in 2019, and then in the meantime, there will be public consultation.”

WTO membership is part of strategy to overhaul economy

Mr. Symonette added that becoming a full WTO member was part of the Government’s strategy to overhaul The Bahamas’ current economic model, and open up new GDP growth possibilities by attracting new industries and businesses to domicile in this nation.

“We can’t be over-regulated and controlled, and still join the WTO,” he explained. “The two are totally opposed to each other.

“It’s part of the Government’s plan to liberalise the economy and cause growth for future generations. That’s why you see other things like the Prime Minister’s announcement on Immigration changes, the Commercial Enterprises Bill. All of this is part of a repositioning of The Bahamas so that we have other industries.

Mr. Symonette also disclosed that the Government was conducting “a revenue review study to see how joining the WTO affects Customs duties and the Budget”.

There will be full consultation with the private and public sectors

Mr. Symonette pledged that there would be full consultation with the private and public sectors to determine “what the next steps are” on WTO accession before The Bahamas actually takes them.

Mr. Symonette added that the private sector’s positions would lead The Bahamas’ approach to the WTO accession negotiations, refuting fears that the Government would determine for itself what was good for local businesses and industries.

“That’s not my way of operating,” he told Tribune Business. “We discuss it and find out the best way forward. The Freeport area and how that fits into it, that’s part of the discussion we have to have; what reservations we need to make in the WTO process and so forth.”

Trade Commission chairman will serve as chief negotiator

The Bahamas will not have to open up all industries to foreign competitors, and reduce/eliminate every tariff line, as it will be able to ‘reserve’ or exempt select sectors from this. But which sectors, and how many, will depend on the skill of this nation’s negotiators.

Mr. Symonette said the Trade Commission’s chairman, Deloitte & Touche (Bahamas) managing partner, Raymond Winder, will be The Bahamas’ chief negotiator, and his vice-chairman his “alternate”, thereby further strengthening Bahamian involvement in the process.

The Bahamas currently has ‘observer’ status at the WTO.

Source: The Tribune Newspaper