Trade Commission's 'major' WTO paper


Tribune Business Editor


The Trade Commission will submit a “comprehensive paper” on the positions the Bahamas should take over World Trade Organisation (WTO) accession before end-June, its chairman said yesterday.

Speaking as the Commission and Ministry of Financial Services embarked on a major round of WTO-related consultation with the private sector, Philip Galanis told Tribune Business that such meetings were “critically important if we’re going to be effective”.

Noting that major reforms to the Bahamian business and commercial landscape would soon be implemented in “rapid succession”, Mr Galanis suggested it was “not coincidental” that Value-Added Tax (VAT) would be introduced just prior to completing accession to full WTO membership.

And Ryan Pinder, minister of financial services, yesterday told Tribune Business that the consultations were designed to aid revisions to the Bahamas’ goods and services offers prior to this nation’s third meeting with the ‘Working Party’ that is determining the terms of its WTO accession.

Meanwhile, Mr Galanis, a former PLP MP and Senator, said the Trade Commission had no choice but to be “active” if the Bahamas - and its private sector - were to negotiate the best possible WTO accession terms, and thus maximise trade benefits.

“We intend at the Trade Commission to submit a fairly comprehensive paper to the Government on trade matters before the end of June,” the well-known accountant told Tribune Business.

“That will cover a number of positions we would like to see the Government take into account with WTO. We’re still drafting it. It’s really a multi-pronged approach.”

While the Trade Commission itself met monthly, Mr Galanis said its sub-committees had been particularly active in obtaining input and feedback from various industries and businesses.

The Commission has sub-committees focused on areas such as investments, agriculture and fisheries, financial services and manufacturing, and Mr Galanis said: “We’ve made every effort to ensure they [the private sector] provide input to us.

“It’s critically important. We hope to inform the Government on a number of issues critical to the private sector.

“We see this kind of public focus as important in obtaining input from the private sector. Some have fallen through the cracks, perhaps, in the past while others have not, and we want as much public discussion on this as possible.”

Apart from the accession process to full WTO membership, the Bahamas is busy on numerous trade fronts.

Having signed on to the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU) and the Caribbean, the Government is moving to implement its - and the private sector’s commitments - here.

And there are also the negotiations over a new trade agreement with Canada, to replace the existing CARIBCAN arrangement, and, ultimately, a replacement for the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI) that will have to be worked out with the US.

Mr Galanis suggested that the trade situation would heat up even further once the Government’s 2013-2014 Budget communication, and subsequent Parliamentary debates, were completed over the next month.

“What we’ll see after the Budget is an even greater discussion on trade matters,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s coincidental that the introduction of VAT is coinciding with accession to the WTO, which the minister said he’d like to see completed by the end of 2014.

“There are a lot of things happening and a lot of overlaps. There are a lot of things coming in rapid succession.”

Rules-based trading organisations, such as the WTO, frown on Customs and other forms of import tariffs, which they view as barriers to trade.

Given the Bahamas’ dependence on Customs and other import-related taxes for around 50 per cent of government revenue, the Christie administration has little choice but to seek alternative forms of income, given the international pressure to reduce them.

“It’s been a very active Trade Commission. It has to be if we’re going to be effective,” Mr Galanis said, adding that the input/feedback process with the private sector was “critically important”.

“This is going to impact our standing in the world with respect to trade,” he told Tribune Business.

“It’s going to define the trade for the Bahamas with these countries via-a-vis the 21 st century. There are going to be long-term implications for the Bahamas with regard to trading practices in the future.”

The consultation, Mr Galanis added, would also ensure that Bahamian industries and businesses could not say new trading arrangements had taken them by surprise or “come out of left field”.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.

Mr Pinder, meanwhile, said the six scheduled days of WTO consultations with the private sector were largely with services industries and providers.

The consultations were broken down into specific industries, and the Minister said: “In preparing for the third Working Party meeting at the WTO, we are preparing revised services and goods offers for submissions to Cabinet before submission to the WTO.

“We are giving every opportunity to consult each element of industry before we present our revised services offer.”

Industries consulted yesterday included insurance, commercial and private banks, marina operators and marketing/consultancy. Tomorrow it will be the turn of the architects, engineers, accountants and real estate sectors.

“It’s really to consult with civil society, private sector participants, on the progress made to-date with WTO, and obtain input from the private sector as to their sense of how things are progressing,” Mr Galanis added.


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