By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
Bahamian manufacturers are warning of "irreparable damage" to the sector if current protective tariffs are not maintained when The Bahamas accedes to full World Trade Organisaton (WTO) membership.
The Bahamas Light Industries Development Council (BLIDC) is urging the Government to be mindful that many of its members rely on protective tariffs to effectively compete with foreign rivals in the domestic market. While commending the Government for its WTO private sector consultations, the BLIDC said substantial concerns remain.
"The Bahamas Light Industries Development Council (BLIDC) have unique concerns," it said in a statement. "Many of our members rely on protective tariffs on the products we produce in order to remain competitive locally. The protective tariffs are critical to our ability to remain active in the business community and continue employing Bahamians.
"In light of this, it is of utmost importance that the Government take note of the protective tariff rates that have been requested. Further we ask that in transparency, the Government share the rates that are eventually submitted to the WTO for negotiation."
The Council added: "The light industries sectors, comprised of manufacturing, light industries and agro-processors, strongly contribute to the health of the local economy and employ no less than 3,800 Bahamians.
"The viability of manufacturing directly correlates with being able to operate on a level playing field, which is currently compromised by high electricity rates, costly labour and limited production scale.
"WTO membership may, in some instances, address scale, but can only be attained if high input costs are tackled. Consequently, in the current environment, protective tariffs on the products we produce is the primary mechanism enabling manufacturers to remain competitive. Irreparable damage will likely be done to the sector if these tariffs are not maintained."
The BLIDC also warned that encouraging foreign direct investment (FDI) should not come at the detriment of existing Bahamian businesses.
"If local interests are not safeguarded, negative effects could completely negate the positive effects noted from accession," it said, calling for a "comprehensive balanced approach" that protects local businesses while encouraging investment in others".