By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Bahamas is targeting its main $2 billion trading partner for an economic boost via a joint Chamber-Government trade mission that will meet with some 200 businesses today.
Edison Sumner, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation’s (BCCEC) chief executive, yesterday told Tribune Business that Florida was the “logical” choice for the first ‘Doing Business in the Bahamas’ forum.
Mr Sumner said the forum was focused on achieving the private sector’s, and the Government’s, key objectives of attracting quality foreign direct investment (FDI); creating export opportunities for Bahamians; finding joint venture partners for Bahamians; and diversifying the economy.
The forum is a public-private sector partnership (PPP) between the Chamber and the Prime Minister’s Office, in collaboration with the US Embassy in Nassau and the US Department of Commerce’s Florida office.
“We’re going over to talk to 200 businesses in that area about doing business in the Bahamas, and trying to get foreign investors to look at the country as a sound, viable investment for them,” Mr Sumner told Tribune Business.
“The purpose and outcomes expected are to attract good quality investment to the Bahamas... Considering that we support the Florida economy quite substantially, it makes logical sense. If we want to look for investment partners for the Bahamas, that area should be the first stop.”
Khaalis Rolle, minister of state for investments, is accompanying Mr Sumner on the Florida trip, together with chairman vice-chairman, Michael Maura; the Abaco Chamber of Commerce’s president, Vado Bootle Sr; and two US Embassy officials.
Apart from touring the Port of Miami, the Bahamian delegation will be involved in a series of one-on-one meetings with Florida-based businesses interested in conducting commerce with, and in, the Bahamas.
“There seems to be very keen interest from the business community in south Florida in looking for opportunities in the Bahamas,” Mr Sumner added, suggesting that the number of companies set to meet with the Bahamian delegation may “balloon” beyond 200.
Hotel and tourism development, information technology (IT) and maritime-related industries are among the sectors that the Bahamian delegation will focus on, Mr Sumner said.
“It’s all about establishing and strengthening trade ties,” he told Tribune Business, pointing out that the Bahamas and Florida did some $2 billion worth of commerce annually.
Mr Sumner said some 45 per cent of the Bahamas’ US imports were food items and groceries, with a further 25 per cent involving construction and building materials, meaning that two categories of goods accounted for 70 per cent of this nation’s physical imports.
He added that the ‘Doing Business in the Bahamas’ forum was also likely to establish a template for similar trade missions to other parts of the US, plus Canada and Central and Latin America.
“It falls in line with the Chamber’s policy of expanding trade opportunities for Bahamian businesses looking to expand their footprint and do business abroad,” Mr Sumner said.
“It’s a forerunner of these missions going forward, looking for partnerships and ways to diversify the economy, as well as giving us opportunities to expand the economy through Bahamian partnerships with foreign investors.”
Mr Sumner said he, together with representatives from the Bahamas Development Bank, Ministry of Finance, Prime Minister’s Office and the Government-sponsored venture capital fund, had recently attended the Small Business Association of the Americas forum from September 8-9, in a bid to “find ways to grow and develop our small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)”.
He expressed hope that “at least 20 businesses” from the Bahamas would attend the Florida Trade and Cultural Expo, set for October 19-20, where they would be able to network and hold one-to-one meetings with civic and business leaders from among the 300 companies attending.