By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
BAHAMIAN producers stand to benefit from a “predictable” trade environment and protection from arbitrary actions through full World Trade Organisation (WTO) membership, a senior official of said yesterday, noting that terms of accession were not a “one-size fits all arrangement”.
David Shark, the WTO’s deputy-director general, said a relatively small group of countries had expressed interest in negotiating market access with this nation.
While speaking to these concerns, Mr Shark said the Bahamas would ultimately negotiate market access terms between itself and other members of the WTO, noting that this nation, while not recognised as being a “huge player”, was already “tightly interwoven” into the international community.
Speaking ahead of last evening’s panel discussion on WTO membership’s likely impact on the Bahamas, Mr Shark suggested small businesses stood to benefit significantly under WTO.
“In many ways the WTO is really all about the rule of law, and those that benefit most are the small businesses,” Mr Shark said.
“They get a predictable trade environment, they’re not at the mercy of others, they have a system of rules that give them stability and, when needed, it gives them protection.
“If their rights are trampled in some way they can ask their government to ask for consultations, and even start a dispute under WTO rules,” he added.
“Being a WTO member also opens up channels for capacity building, trade-related technical assistance to help members take full advantage of their membership, and that feeds into a much larger exercise called aid-for-trade, which brings together not just the WTO but the whole development community to mainstream trade into the development plans for developing countries, so they can maximise their gains from international trade.”
Mr Shark further stated: “When you negotiate the terms of your accession to the WTO, it’s not a one-size-fits-all arrangement. There are some parts that everybody does, there are rules that members have to apply; you’re not supposed to discriminate; you’re supposed to base your health standards on science; and give opportunities for people to come in on standards when you’re creating standards.
“None of those are harmful to small businesses. In fact, they stand to gain by having their interests taken into account when those things are done.”
Acknowledging that the market access issue was perhaps the most worrisome, Mr Shark said: “Will that mean that the tariffs all come down to zero? Does it mean that the Bahamas has to open up its services market fully and let anybody come in? The answer is no. Each country negotiates its way into the WTO.
“It’s not like a lot of international organisations, where you simply sign. You have to show that you are ready to meet the WTO’s rules, sometimes with a little bit of lead time to do that, but you negotiate market access terms between yourself and the members of the WTO.”
The Bahamas is currently in the process of acceding to the WTO. Financial Service Minister Ryan Pinder said yesterday that the Government was preparing for WTO accession “in the normal course”, with negotiations expected to conclude sometime next year.
Mr Shark said of the 159 countries that are currently under the WTO, a relatively small number have expressed interest in negotiating market access with the Bahamas.
”They come in with their interests, The Bahamas comes in with its interest and you negotiate bilaterally to find solutions that are acceptable to both sides,” he added.
“If the Bahamas has a particular sensitivity through this negotiation, then they can endeavour to protect that sensitivity.
“The Bahamas is recognised as not being a huge player. People are going to show reasonable flexibility when dealing with the Bahamas. Their expectations, I think, are calibrated to the size of the country that they are negotiating with.”