By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas can become a “dominant trade hub”, the minister for financial services and investments said yesterday, adding that rules-based trading agreements could protect certain industries from ‘dumping’ and other unfair practices.
Addressing the Rotary Club of East Nassau, Ryan Pinder said chicken producers frequently complained they were unable to compete because rival imports were “sub-standard, not necessarily fresh and dumped in large quantities in this country”.
But, under a rules-based trading agreement such as the World Trade Organisation (WTO), or trade agreements such as those with Europe and Canada, Mr Pinder said such practices would be prevented.
“In Bahamian industry, and particularly in the agricultural industry, we hear the complaints of sub-standard products being dumped in the Bahamas at low prices, to the point where domestic industry cannot compete,” Mr Pinder said.
“A fundamental component of our legislative reform process is to put in place the framework to protect Bahamian industry, and Bahamian agriculture in particular.”
Apart from a Standards Bureau and regulations that would ensure imports met certain standards, Mr Pinder said the effort would also include measures to prevent the dumping of poor quality, low-priced product in the Bahamas.
“The new proposed frameworks will not only provide certification and recognition that our domestic chicken production is of better quality, but will protect the market from the dumping of sub-standard and anti-competitively priced product, to the benefit of our premium domestic producers,” Mr Pinder said.
“Trade liberalisation and reform can, and will, act as a support for the enhancement of local industry, Bahamian industry.”
Mr Pinder added that the Government was also focused on the development of creative industries, adding that it hoped that by 2030, the number of tourists coming to the Bahamas for the arts and culture matched sun, sand and sea seekers.”
Emphasising that the Bahamas needed to guarantee access to overseas markets for its manufacturers and export industries, Mr Pinder said this was why it had signed on to the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU) to safeguard its $70 million in annual crawfish exports.
Warning that without the protection of the WTO and other such agreements, the Bahamas would lose out to other countries on competitiveness and job creation, Mr Pinder added: “We collectively have to be committed to bold and progressive steps for economic reform.
“For example, the Bahamas is positioned to be a dominant trade hub. You frequently hear in real estate it boils down to location, location, location. In international trade, it is the same.
“The Bahamas has a key market access location and infrastructure, allowing for a connection and distribution channel throughout the western hemisphere. As we continue to attract international ,and build up our domestic manufacturers, guaranteed market access is an imperative component.
“We have existing and potential manufacturers coming to us, who need a guaranteed right of access to markets such the US, Mexico and Brazil.”
Emphasising that tax reform should not only be about increasing government revenues, but facilitating economic development and expansion, Mr Pinder said accession to full WTO membership would legally guarantee access to the markets of its 157 members.
Using the crawfish example again, he added: “If certain markets wanted to protect their industry, they could legally impose a prohibitive duty tariff on crawfish imports from the Bahamas.
“An action as specific as this would be perfectly legal in international trade law as we do not have the legal guarantee of market access for our goods because the Bahamas is the only country in this hemisphere that is not a member of the WTO.
“There was a concern that if we did not enter into the EPA that our regional counterparts would have a competitive advantage for exports into Europe because of the guarantee of preferential duty tariffs for crawfish into Europe granted to the signatories. As the Bahamas is the largest crawfish exporter in the region by a large margin, ensuring equal footing among competitors was essential.”