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Bahamas Already Breaches Wto Industry 'Carve Outs'

photo

Zhivargo Laing

By NATARIO McKENZIE

Tribune Business Reporter

nmckenzie@tribunemedia.net

The Bahamas has already breached the local ownership exemptions it is seeking for certain industries, the country's chief World Trade Organisation (WTO) negotiator said yesterday.

Zhivargo Laing, the former Cabinet minister, told the the Rotary Club of West Nassau that The Bahamas has to "some degree" already permitted foreign ownership in sectors supposedly reserved for Bahamians only under the National Investment Policy.

"One of the negotiating challenges that faces us when we go to the WTO is we say that we reserve wholesale for Bahamians only," Mr Laing explained, "but who is the largest wholesaler in the Commonwealth of The Bahamas?

"Bahamas Food Services, which is owned by Sysco, an American company. We say we reserve the retail trade for Bahamians but, when we go down Bay Street, who is retailing in those stores? Indians and Mexicans and so forth. I say that to point out that to some degree we have already breached the very polices that we say that we are negotiating."

Mr Laing said the Government stands to lose $40m in revenue by eliminating or reducing import tariffs as part of its accession to full WTO membership. "Based on our very extensive model is that, given the offer we have put on the table, it will be to the order of $40 million," he added.

"I have been in the Ministry of Finance. The Government of the Bahamas wastes about $40m annually. Not only that; the Government of the Bahamas gives up $1bn in exemptions to international and domestic companies. It could reduce that by 10 per cent and make up $40m. It is not insurmountable."

Responding to concerns that the long-standing dispute between the US and Antigua and Barbuda over Internet gambling demonstrated that the WTO lacks "teeth" to enforce its rulings, Mr Laing argued that the case proved smaller nations can get "fair play" in the process.

"It is one of many resolved disputes in the WTO," he added. "When you got to court in The Bahamas you say I want $1m, the judge looks at the matter, rules in your favour and says you aren't getting $1m; they say $200,000. That's what they assess.

"Antigua won its settlement, which shows small countries can get fair play in the process. In the WTO, the rules allow for you to get relief in many ways. The US opted for a certain way. Antigua wanted $250m, and why not? What is unresolved is not that they won, and not that they have relief to get; it's the kind of relief."

This past summer, the island nation's US ambassador, Sir Roland Saunders, was reported stating that Antigua and Barbuda was losing hope that it would get justice in its 15-year dispute.

The dispute between the two countries stems from the US government's efforts to prohibit Americans from gambling at online sites domiciled in Antigua and Barbuda. Antigua and Barbuda won the right to suspend its obligations to the US in respect of intellectual property rights to recover $2m annually, but reportedly has not acted on that authorisation in the hopes of reaching a fair settlement.

Mr Laing, meanwhile, said The Bahamas would have between three to five years to adjust to its WTO accession terms, dismissing concerns that compliance will have to be "immediate" and "automatic" upon completion of negotiations.

Suggesting that local industries will have time to make the necessary adjustments, he explained: "There is a view that The Bahamas government is seeking to complete these negotiations by the end of next year, and the view is that once we complete these negotiations by the end of next year, come January 2020, the Government has to make all of these exorbitant adjustments to WTO rules. That is absolutely untrue.

"If you complete the negotiations by the end of 2019, there is a ratification process by the trade ministers of the WTO that will not take place until June 2020. After that, the Government of The Bahamas has to pass legislation to ratify The Bahamas' involvement in WTO. Any adjustment will be no earlier than three years and as much as five years."

Comments

Well_mudda_take_sic 2 years, 3 months ago

LMAO. I can't imagine Laing of all people being our country's lead WTO negotiator. Just how stupid can the dimwitted Doc possibly be???!!!!!

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The_Oracle 2 years, 3 months ago

What he is saying, without saying it, is we cannot carve these areas out as the Government has already breached them! Mr. Laing is the guy who likes to keep secrets, from the people whom he is supposed to be working for.

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BahamaPundit 2 years, 3 months ago

I have little faith in Mr. Laing's ability to negotiate WTO accession on behalf of the Bahamas, because he seems way too starry eyed and optimistic about the WTO. He strikes me as a man that does not seem worldly wise enough or jaded enough to be realistic. He needs to travel more, live abroad and work in other countries to get a more a wholistic awareness of power plays and leverage. At the end of the day, he strikes me as a complete globalist that is probably pro open borders and would have everyone compete, regardless of citizenship. He seems to believe the Bahamas belongs to the world, not to Bahamians. I hope I'm wrong.

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ThisIsOurs 2 years, 3 months ago

I don't believe you need to live abroad and work in other countries to be at the top of your game. But in absence of that experience you do need to be an exceptional individual or have a collection of exceptional people with you.

I believe Mr Laing has the best interest of the Bahamas at heart. I've no doubt about it.

There is one thing that gave me pause though, he mentioned that the team that met with them pulled them aside and told them they were so impressed because the Bahamas was so well prepared. And Mr Laing seemed very pleased with that,

Now, there's nothing wrong with praise if it's true. But when someone is trying to get me to do something and being excessively friendly or effusive with praise I become wary. Another type of praise I tend to dismiss is when people give a backhanded you're more than I expected of "your kind" compliment.

I had a professor in Canada who would constantly ask me if I was sure I didn't do an undergraduate degree in English. I never knew what to make of it, was he saying I was horrible at the existing field? Then one day a Chinese student stood to present the first assignment, the grammar was horrible. An Indian student asked me if I could edit their work. At that point I realized the professor was giving me what HE perceived as a compliment, I was a black person of no obvious wealth, from a poor little black country in the middle of the Caribbean (well...), yes my grammar was good, but I was no playwright, it just turned out he never expected black me to be able to put a proper sentence together. And he was a good guy. Another example I'd recently done work on a project for which I did not have all the information I needed. So I asked someone who I knew would know more than me for assistance, they patted me on the head (figuratively) and said oh certainly little child it's so cute you're trying to learn this stuff (I exaggerate). I submitted the questions, their response was oh I didn't expect that, these aren't simple, and they were very nice,but again they didn't expect a black person from little Bahamas to have even the little knowledge I had.

So back to the "best prepared" team, I was surprised that it was even mentioned. And I was immediately wary, was it a we never expected you black Caribbean people to even show up with pen and paper or a was it a car salesmanship pitch. We can't know. But we can be wary. Crack negotiation teams complete psychological research on the individuals they're meeting with and they know which buttons to press. Remember the leaked US Embassy Bahamian profiles? The Chinese are exceptional at it' they had Christie and Trump down to a science. We can be wary.

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Porcupine 2 years, 3 months ago

HOW will joining the WTO help Bahamians? All Bahamians.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 2 years, 3 months ago

The short and truthful answer is: Joining the WTO is going to cost most Bahamians dearly, with absolutely no benefit in return.

Even the U.S. wants out of the WTO because Red China now uses it as a tool to exploit its imperialist ambitions. Joining the WTO will give Red China the foothold it needs to have a complete stranglehold on our economy. And if you thought being invaded by Haitian-illegal immigrants was bad enough, well, just you wait, the worst is yet to come if we join the WTO. LMAO

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BahamaPundit 2 years, 3 months ago

The scary part is, I honestly don't think people like Mr. Laing are fully aware how blessed the Bahamas is compared to the rest of the world: small population, beautiful environment and proximity to the US. All they think about is jobs, jobs, jobs for the poor mostly immigrant population. We've seen this with other Bahamian politicians that give the horse and the hog away with the barn. They negotiate prom a position of weakness, not strength, because they are so eager to be accepted and liked by the big white boys' club. Look how Cuba negotiates in comparison. They tell investors to get lost, unless it's completely on their terms. Black men are poor negotiators because, deep down, they have an inferiority complex. This leads them to be either too demanding and unrealistic or not demanding enough; they find it difficult to strike a ballance.

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BahamaPundit 2 years, 3 months ago

You want a good negotiator for WTO? Hire an Indian specialist consultant in WTO. Those Indian boys know what it's like to be dirt poor and treated like crap by imperial nations, and they have risen to the top because of this wisdom. They don't get messed with, because they have gone through hell and come back.

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ThisIsOurs 2 years, 3 months ago

I know nothing about economics, but here is my general advice. The public (me included) has serious concerns and fears about what this WTO accession may mean for regular Bahamians. You may assess that those concerns are silly, illegitimate and nonsensical. And you may be right, but try to put aside that natural inclination that we all have to belittle people's concerns if we strongly disagree, it's not the way to win the public. Your concern is to reassure us. Every referendum we've had, the government has launched a marketing campaign to tell us how wonderful things will be post implementation, completly ignoring any serious mitigation planning for even the most obvious risks. Because of course that would be an admission that it may not work the way we say right? Gaming for example is only five years later openly admitting that gambling addiction exists.

Don't fall into that bed of roses marketing pitfall. The only way you can assure is to assess the likelihood of our concerns manifesting and then say, let's say your concern comes true, here is the plan for how the government will address that to ensure the Bahamian people are not disadvantaged. Here are the performance indicators and timelines we will use to ensure we identify potential issues before they turn into a local crisis. These are the extra independent human resources we're assigning to follow the progress. For Gods sake do not list resources under the control of the ministry of finance, they've proven unreliable at best. Here's the grant funding we've given to UB etc etc. Here's the action we will take if A happens, B happens etc. That's my best advice, don't dismiss fears, address them.

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Well_mudda_take_sic 2 years, 3 months ago

The WTO is going to do to the other sectors of our economy what the OECD/FATF, etc. have done to our banking sector. Red China is lining the pockets of our dumber than dumb politicians from the very top right on down in order to con them into thinking the Bahamas must join what is rapidly becoming a Red China dominated and controlled WTO. LMAO

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ThisIsOurs 2 years, 3 months ago

Yeah my inclination is to believe the first sentence. I do not believe this is two trading groups looking for mutual benefit. But I was once given what I believe is great advice. Expect the man to come with his agenda. Your responsibility is to know your own.

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BahamaPundit 2 years, 3 months ago

That's the biggest problem. Our objective is not to trade in other countries but to recieve handouts and bribes from them. That objective leaves us in a weak position, because we aren't using WTO correctly. Countries that have nothing to trade globally have no point joining WTO. It's like entering the wrong room. We were looking for the handout and bribery room but walked into a room in which BMWs and Mercedes were being manufactured.

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BahamaPundit 2 years, 3 months ago

China wants Crooked Island. WTO is the bridge.

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