By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A BAHAMIAN delegation is aiming to prevent this nation from becoming "a dumping ground" for poor-quality used cars through this weekend's mission to Japan.
The mixed public and private sector group, headed by Standards Bureau executives, will assess the pre-export inspection process for used Japanese vehicles as part of efforts to better protect the welfare of Bahamian consumers and the environment.
Dr Renae Ferguson-Bufford, the Bahamas Bureau of Standards and Quality's (BBSQ) director, told Tribune Business that the group was responding to a Japanese invitation about whether this nation wanted pre-inspection services performed on imported used cars.
Dr Ferguson-Bufford, who is heading a delegation that includes the Prime Minister's wife, in her capacity as a Standards Bureau Board member, said the visit would focus on one vehicle testing company, EAA Company Ltd, to determine whether its facilities were compliant with International Standards Organisation (ISO) 1725 certification.
She added EAA Company had reached out to the Bahamas, upon realising this nation was "one of the leading" Japanese used vehicle importers in the Caribbean region, to offer its inspection and testing services.
The Bahamas currently has no way to verify the quality or mileage of used vehicle imports, thereby creating a potential danger to consumer health and safety. Purchasers are often unable to determine whether they are getting 'value for money', and the influx of these automobiles has also been blamed for the numerous wrecks lining the roadside, impacting the environment.
"The whole objective is to see what these inspection facilities are all about," Dr Ferguson-Bufford said of EAA Company. "They found us and realised the Bahamas was one of the leading countries in the Caribbean in terms of car imports, and that we're looking more and more to Japan to bring these vehicles in.
"They know a lot of cars have been dumped, and that there are cars which have been stolen. They want us to ensure we're getting the proper quality of cars which are environmentally friendly and all of that.
"They [EAA] have opened the doors to us to ask if we want to ensure proper inspections, and a proper quality of cars. We want to ensure we're bringing in good quality cars."
Dr Ferguson-Bufford added that the Government, as well as the private sector, wanted to prevent the importation of 'disguised' wrecked vehicles and combat consumer fraud stemming from the 'roll back' of an automobile's mileage to make it appear newer, and less travelled, than it actually is.
She also suggested that the Bahamas needed to revisit the '10 year-old' age limit on imported used vehicles, given that this is one of the most generous thresholds in the region.
"Out of the Caribbean, we're one of the leaders in terms of that window," Dr Ferguson-Bufford told Tribune Business. "It's still 10 years, and the Caribbean is mostly five years. That's something we need to look at as well. Should we up it?"
She added that EAA Company Ltd had also offered to send its personnel to the Bahamas to train government agencies, such as Customs and the Ministry of Transport, in vehicle inspections free of charge.
Edison Sumner, the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce and Employers Confederation's (BCCEC) chief executive, said the mission would assess how all parties in the 'used vehicle' business could benefit from a more rigorous pre-import inspection.
Mr Sumner, who will be part of the delegation in his capacity as Standards Bureau vice-chairman, explained: "We're going at the invitation of our counterparts in Japan to have a chance to do some inspections of their vehicle inspection process, their private vehicle auctions, and the process of exporting vehicles from Japan.
"Our interest is the quality of vehicles coming into the Bahamas, looking at roadworthiness, how environmentally friendly they are, and the safety of those vehicles on the streets of the country.
"We just want to ensure we're getting the highest quality of inspections before vehicles are shipped to this country, and that we're getting automobiles that will last for a while and not become a burden on the economy and the environment."
Mr Sumner added that the Bahamas needed to ensure all vehicle imports met certain environmental and emissions standards, and that they conformed to the necessary ISO standards.
"When it comes to the importation of used vehicles, we must be sure we are bringing into the country vehicles to the benefit of those using them; the car dealers, consumers and drivers," he said. "And to be sure we are doing the right thing for Bahamian consumers and business persons, particularly those in the car dealership business."
Fred Albury, the Bahamas Motor Dealers Association's (BMDA) president, told Tribune Business that properly-certified pre-inspections of this nation's used car imports would be a 'win-win' for all parties by providing them with a higher level of protection.
Mr Albury, who will also be part of the week-long mission to Japan, said the idea of pre-inspections was first mulled in 2016 by the former Christie administration and its then-financial secretary, Simon Wilson.
While little progress was made then, Mr Albury said his own research found there were several other Japanese companies besides EAA that performed inspections on the country's used car exports for destinations such as Australia, New Zealand and Tanzania.
While Bahamian consumers may have to pay a small sum should this nation engage such inspection services, the BMDA chief suggested that the enhanced consumer, auto dealer and environmental welfare that would result will far outweigh the costs.
"They [the Japanese] do the inspection process to ensure the vehicles are in good condition, to get a good market value and ensure that the mileage is true, because many of the cars coming in have had their mileage rolled back," Mr Albury said.
"It's something the people bringing in will have to pay for, but many of those cars coming in are disposable and go off the road in short order. I think the benefit is going to be from the environmental side of things, as we as a nation need to ensure we're not becoming a dumping ground.
"It's going to step up the quality of the vehicle coming into the country, it's going to have a lot more life, and will enhance the value."
Dr Ferguson-Bufford, who currently chairs CROSQ, the Caribbean regional standards body, said other nations were also interested in accessing pre-export inspection services for Japanese used car imports.
"I spoke to some of the bigger member states, Trinidad and St Lucia, and none of them have this service," she revealed. "All are interested. They want us to go and do it. They're [the Japanese] opening it to the Bahamas first, and others would like to have the same thing.
"Jamaica does pre-inspections and have found it very challenging. They want it done before the vehicle arrives. Once the car's landed, whose to say? It's a challenge they want to get rid of."
Dr Ferguson-Bufford added that more rigorous vehicle import standards also aligned with the Bahamas' renewed efforts to accede to full World Trade Organisation (WTO) membership.